A group of about 40 students traveled 1,600 kilometers over spring break to demonstrate inclusiveness in front of the White House on Thursday.
Together with parents and other adults, the group locked arms and encircled part of Lafayette Square in front of the executive mansion to demonstrate that We Belong Together. Their campaign focuses on the impact of immigration policy on women and children. Many in the group have been directly impacted by deportations and family separation.
Elena Marquez, 17, wanted to tell U.S. President Donald Trump — who has couched his immigration policy as a matter of national security — that not all immigrants are criminals, rapists or drug dealers.
Born in the U.S., she was 12 when she witnessed her father being arrested and deported back to Guatemala for driving without a license. Her mother, who is also undocumented, has been a single mother taking care of her and siblings.
“When my dad was here, he would pick us up from school. He would [cook] dinner when it was his turn. … My mom here is all alone [but] she tries to do her best,” Marquez said.
Marquez said it is now her turn to protect her mother. “I want to go to college. I want to study law,” she said.
The idea to travel to the nation’s capital was born after elected officials in Miami-Dade County, Florida, decided to abandon its sanctuary status. Sanctuary jurisdictions are selective about how they cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
“The kids delivered a big fat ‘F’ to Mayor Gimenez for failing to protect immigrant families, and we set off on a three-day journey,” Andrea Mercado, director of the We Belong Together campaign, told VOA. The caravan departed from in front of the office of Miami-Dade’s mayor, Carlos Gimenez, on April 10.
“These young people are present and future leaders. That’s the kind of leadership that we need to take our country forward,” Mercado said.
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The demonstration comes days after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared a new era in immigration enforcement.
Sessions vowed to crack down on unauthorized immigrants during a visit Tuesday to the U.S.-Mexico border at Nogales, Arizona.
“For those that continue to seek improper and illegal entry into this country, be forewarned: This is a new era. This is the Trump era,” Sessions declared to an audience of Customs and Border Protection personnel.
Still, 10-year-old Jasmine, whose mother preferred not to share the family’s last name because her father is undocumented, said she is on a mission to tell Trump that separating families is wrong.
“This is actually my mission and many other children’s missions,” Jasmine said.