Hundreds of Missoulians marched through the streets Saturday to protest the separation of immigrant families on the southern border under President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy – and to demand that ICE leave Montana.

“I think the Missoula community has been watching pretty aghast at what’s been happening at the borders,” said Rebecca Weston, co-director of Montanans for Immigrant Justice. “I think this is both an opportunity to share our rage, but also then to continue the demand that we actually want real change.”

As a psychotherapist, Weston said she knows the trauma children experience when they are forcibly separated from their families.

“I know deeply what this means to kids,” she said. “My mom was a refugee at age 3 and was in an orphanage. I know deeply what it means and the consequences that are generational.”

Missoula’s march was part of a nationwide protest christened “Families Belong Together,” and which supported the immediate reunification of families torn apart at the border and the end of family separation and detention.

Protesters wore foil “blankets” reminiscent of those given to children in detention camps. They held signs demanding the abolishment of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, and asserting that no human is “illegal.”

Outside the Missoula County Courthouse, marchers were able to sign a petition urging GOP Sen. Steve Daines to push theSenate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs to demand immediate family reunification.

In addition, they demanded that Gov. Steve Bullock lead a conversation about abolishing ICE’s involvement in Montana law enforcement and detention facilities, as well as encouraging the state to refrain from using funds to assist ICE enforcement, Weston said.

As an immigrant from Zimbabwe, MoveOn organizer Bryony Schwan said she has experienced the civil unrest that can arise when democracy is questioned. Organizing rallies and demanding that elected officials get involved can help, she said.

“We want to be clear that our community is not going to participate in separating families and the policies that the Trump administration has been putting out,” Schwan said at the rally. “We don’t want our elected officials, we don’t want our county commissioners, our sheriff, any of our elected officials to participate in holding immigrants as though they were criminals.”

Missoula marchers had an opportunity to sign a petition to Sen. Steve Daines, enlisting his help in the fight against the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy. (Mari Hall/Missoula Current)
Missoula marchers had an opportunity to sign a petition to Sen. Steve Daines, enlisting his help in the fight against the Trump administration's zero tolerance policy. (Mari Hall/Missoula Current)

Pastor John Lund of Emmaus Campus Ministry at the University of Montana spoke about his own ties to immigration.

His Finnish ancestors lived in the United States as undocumented immigrants and his Sicilian grandparents raised a family in the ghetto of Detroit.

“With all of us who go back far enough, we have a story of deep hardship and anguish and possibly a time when we had to count on the goodwill and the compassion of others,” Lund said.

The “zero tolerance” policy enacted in April by the Trump administration directs federal prosecutors to criminally prosecute all adult migrants who enter the country illegally.

Previously, immigrants were often referred to civil deportation proceedings and released.

Leticia Romero, a member of Montanans for Immigrant Justice, has voiced her concerns to the Missoula County commissioners and the Missoula County sheriff about allowing ICE to keep undocumented immigrants in local jails.

“We don’t want families separated. It’s a civil offense, and people shouldn’t be put in jail for this,” Romero said Saturday.

More than 2,000 immigrant children were separated from their families before the president halted the practice; on June 26, a federal judge in California ordered U.S. immigration authorities to reunite families within 30 days.

In Montana, eight rallies took place Saturday, including events in Billings, Bozeman, Great Falls and Helena. More than 700 rallies were held across the country.