Over 1,000 people from Asheville and Western North Carolina participated in the “Families Belong Together” rally on downtown Asheville’s Haywood Street on June 30. Part of a larger national protest held on the same day in 700 cities, the rally was organized locally by Families Belong Together Asheville and Indivisible Asheville/WNC to speak out against family separation and a zero-tolerance immigration policy recently enacted by the United States government.
The speakers had only a bullhorn to address the large crowd gathered at the city-owned lot at 68 Haywood St. across from Pack Library. Protesters filled the area, ringed the fencing around and above the lot and spilled out into the sidewalks on both sides of the street to condemn the separation and indefinite incarceration of families at the southern U.S. border with Mexico.
Benny Garcia, a recent graduate of Macon Early College, gave an impassioned speech:
“When I see these children on the news, I can’t help but see myself in them. Not just because they’re Hispanic, like me, or because they speak Spanish like me, or because their mama and papa look like mine. But because they are people who have imagination, aspiration and hope just like me and just like all of you and even just like President Trump. At the end of the day, we belong to one species: the human race. When we strip away our skin colors, religions, our nationalities, our sexual orientations — everything that divides us — we are simply left with people. We share the same anatomy. Whether we are black or white, whether we are gay or straight, whether we are citizens or immigrants searching for a better life, our hearts beat the same way. We cry when we’re sad, we laugh when we’re happy and we fear when there’s something unknown, so please, let’s have sympathy for these children and their families. They dream just as big as you do and they deserve to make those dreams a reality. By letting these children reach their true potential, we can cultivate the next generation of scientists, doctors and innovators that could change the world. We must not leave the future locked in cages.”
The American Myth Center, a local repertory company, performed a recitation of Warsan Shire’s poem, “Home,” stanza by stanza in English and Spanish. The poem explains in graphic detail the many factors that drive someone from their home to seek refuge in another country.
Jim Barrett, executive director of Pisgah Legal Services, explained the nonprofit legal organization’s mission, Justice For All:
“Within the limits of the law, we help the most vulnerable immigrants, including children and victims of violent crimes. A large number of our clients come from mixed-status households, which means some members of the household are U.S. citizens and some are not. These families are particularly vulnerable to family separation in light of recent policies at the federal level. There is no constitutional right to legal counsel in the immigration context, even for children. So many of our neighbors rely on Pisgah Legal Services to be their advocates and enforce their rights. Keeping families together creates stronger communities. Separating families here in Western North Carolina causes trauma, insecurity and financial instability, not to mention the cost of foster care for children.”
Pastor David McNair of The Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit in Mars Hill and the Rev. Sara Wilcox of the Land of the Sky United Church of Christ in Asheville spoke as allies on behalf of the Compañeros Inmigrantes de las Montañas en Acción (CIMA), an immigrant advocacy group in Western North Carolina.
McNair and Wilcox read from a joint statement drafted in partnership with CIMA. Pastor McNair opened, “Today’s rally is a great consciousness-jarring event to help sensitize us and awaken us to a reality that immigrants have known for many, many, many years. They have faced this for a long time. And for a long time, Latinx and targeted communities have been leading comprehensive strategies and movements of resistance. The work is not new, but our awakening, for many, including myself, is new. I urge you to wake up. To continue to wake up. Let’s awaken ourselves and those around us and let’s stay awake and then let us take action to eradicate ICE and to abolish the systems that have allowed such gruesome and dehumanizing institutions to exist,” he said.
Wilcox continued, “As allies, we have a responsibility to ourselves and to our communities to name, resist and hold accountable the ways we are complicit in using privilege to perpetuate oppression and instead use that privilege for the purpose of dignity and liberation for all. It is what all good human beings are called to. It is what people who serve a God of love and justice are called to. Showing up today is but one step, and in this space I want to ask you, ‘How far are you willing to go?’”