Keith Hurtt wore a shoulder sash across his shirt on Saturday as a show of pride about his own immigrant past.
“My family stepped off the boat in New Orleans and never made it more than a mile from the river,” said Hurtt, a Bywater resident whose ancestors were mostly from Bavaria.
Despite the withering heat, Hurtt and hundreds of other people waving banners and signs gathered Saturday afternoon at Congo Square in Armstrong Park and marched through the French Quarter to Jackson Square.
Roughly 200 people marched in a similar “Families Belong Together” march in Covington, and hundreds of thousands more took part in about 750 similar “Families Belong Together” rallies held across the nation Saturday.
The protesters called on President Donald Trump to end his “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which has resulted in the separation of thousands of children and parents who crossed the nation’s southern border illegally, many of them fleeing violence in their homelands.
Can't see video below? Click here.
Locally, organizers also demanded that the city not feed confidential information to a company called Palantir that they said is helping to create the databases that ICE — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — uses to plan its raids on people in the country illegally.
City policies governing the New Orleans Police Department and the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office already prevent targeting people based on immigration status.
Sister Greta Jupiter, 70, the congregational head of the Sisters of the Holy Family, said the Trump administration's policy violates the church’s position that families are sacred.
In addition, Jupiter said, the church has long supported the right of immigrants to flee violence, dating back to the days when King Herod threatened to kill all the infants in Bethlehem. “Mary and Joseph fled to Egypt to protect her child — Jesus,” Jupiter said.
Sister Mary Francis, 46, one of about 10 nuns from the Holy Family order who marched in Saturday’s protest, said that to her, as an African-American woman, the new policy echoed another disgraceful chapter in American history, when slave owners routinely separated enslaved parents and children. “They didn’t view our families as valid either,” she said.
New Orleans City Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer joined the march wearing a khaki-green T-shirt that read, “I do really care,” a sartorial retort to a much-discussed message written on Melania Trump’s jacket last month.
The nation’s new approach to immigration is “unconscionable,” Palmer said. She found it particularly incompatible with the history of New Orleans, which has long been a melting pot and especially owes a debt to the Latino workers who helped to rebuild the flooded city after 2005, she said.
Some in the crowd carried signs reading “Abolish ICE.”
Although New Orleans does not share a border with Mexico and has not been a focal point for the recent family separations, immigrant families in New Orleans also face the constant threat of separation, said Santos Canales, 48, and Santos Alvarado, 56, both leaders in the Congress of Day Laborers.
That group, often called the Congreso, sponsored the day’s rally along with other community groups including the People’s Assembly, the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice and STAND With Dignity.
Last week, Congreso leader and Salvadoran native Jose Torres received an apparent reprieve from ICE and left First Grace United Methodist Church in Mid-City, where he had been living “in sanctuary” since November after he was told to purchase a ticket back to El Salvador or face forcible deportation and separation from his two young daughters.
Until recently, people who reached agreements with ICE and complied with monthly check-ins and other requirements were a low priority for the agency.
But on Friday, the local ICE office dealt another blow to the New Orleans immigrant community when it detained Honduran immigrant Nancy Oliva Baca, a Congreso member, during one of her regular check-ins.
Baca moved to New Orleans to help with construction efforts in 2006. Her twin daughters, 9, are United States citizens, having been born here. Her 17-year-old son fled the rampant gang violence in Honduras in recent years and was granted asylum.
The size of the turnout for Saturday’s rallies across the country showed how many people do not support the administration’s policies, organizers said.
“We know that we have a few isolated enemies,” Alvarado said. “But, as we see today, many more people are just people with love in their hearts, who believe we have a right to stay with our families and live in our communities.”