They expected around 1,000. Around 10,000 showed up. Organizers and the King County Sheriff's Office were surprised at the size of crowd at the SeaTac Federal Detention Center.
Thousands gathered at the SeaTac Federal Detention Center on Saturday, protesting President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which has led to heated criticism from mayors, governors and citizens.
Sgt. Cindy Sampson said the King County Sheriff’s Office estimated around 10,000 people showed up for a highly emotional, but peaceful, demonstration full of strollers, grandmothers and a small contingent from the Puget Sound John Brown Gun Club, which, member Duke Aaron said, “is an anti-racist, anti-fascist organization, standing in opposition to organized white supremacists and attacks on people from vulnerable communities.”
Hamdi Mohamed, an immigrant caseworker and outreach coordinator for U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, broke down at the podium while talking about her visit to the detention facility.
“We heard stories of mothers denied the opportunity to kiss or even say goodbye to their children,” she said, before apologizing for her tears. “Stay strong!” someone in the crowd shouted. Mohamed said she heard stories about “frigid temperatures, thin blankets, being forced into cages.”
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The demonstrators turned toward the detention center (where uniformed officers walked the rooftop, with cameras on tripods set up to monitor the crowd) chanting: “Shame! Shame! Shame!” Then Mohamed led the crowd in another chant: “Families belong together! No human is illegal!”
Around 200 immigrants are currently detained in Washington, according to a lawsuit filed against the Trump administration by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson. The vast majority are women, according to the lawsuit, and over a third of those women have been separated from their children.
The protest in SeaTac joined more than than 700 demonstrations around the country Saturday, from Seattle to the Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey, and several in Washington state. Trump has backed away from the family-separation policy amid international outcry, from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Pope Francis. The Saturday demonstrators demanded the government quickly reunite the families separated at the border with Mexico.
SeaTac demonstrators came from all over the map: immigrants from China, Latin America, Europe and Russia, as well as lifelong Northwest residents, including retired veterinarian’s assistant Pat Passmore, who said she lives “just down the street” from the detention center. Passmore grew up in rural Eastern Washington and said she began agitating for the rights of immigrants (documented and undocumented) when she was a teenager. “I’ve been doing this for 50 years,” she said. “It’s just demonstrate, demonstrate, demonstrate until the work is done.”
Light-rail trains to the demonstration were jammed, thick with sweat and harsh words for the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
“This is against human rights,” said Kimberly Early, who works with preschoolers and teachers in Seattle’s Department of Education and Early Learning. “We’re repeating history – slavery, Native Americans …”
“There is no doubt that a lot of these kids will have PTSD,” added Early’s friend Dr. Valentina Warner, a family-practice physician at the Rainier Beach Medical Clinic. “It’s morally unacceptable.”
Maria Ivanteeva, a Russian immigrant, said she and her friends were demonstrating because they could, without fear of government reprisal: “As a Russian, I participate in this demonstration because the people and Congress in my country are not able to protest against the president.”
Another immigrant, Paola del Sol (who emigrated from Italy to Argentina, then came to the U.S. in 1963), said the Trump administration reminded her of her childhood in Europe before World War II. “Growing up in Europe, these days are such a strong reminder,” she said. “The fascism – to come to this point in this country, it hurts. It makes me very mad. And it’s terribly frustrating. I thought: ‘Why are we back here again?’ I thought we got past this.”
In Olympia, around 3,000 demonstrators rallied at the Capitol, according to an official for the state Department of Enterprise Services. Signs read: “Shame on your Mr Trump,” “Abolish ICE” and “Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free!”
“Turning our back on immigrants and refugees,” said U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia, “is turning our back on America.”
Back at SeaTac, Chinese immigrant Miao Miao Dang – who has lived in Seattle for 12 years and now works at a preschool in Rainier Valley – took a more personal stance. “I am here,” she said, “to help people like myself.”
Staff reporter Joseph O’Sullivan contributed to this report from Olympia.