SIOUX CITY -- The explosive issue of migrant family separation, which recently prompted a nationwide outcry and an executive order attempting to reverse the practice, brought out scores of locals to a rally Saturday.
An estimated 270-person crowd gathered at the Long Lines Family Rec Center parking lot Saturday morning to listen to passionate speeches and march in opposition to the policy of separating children and parents who cross the U.S. border illegally.
More than 2,000 children are believed to have been separated from their parents by the policy, which in recent weeks has sparked confusion, hysteria and wrath. A judge last week ordered the children be reunited with their parents within the next few weeks.
The "Families Belong Together March" was organized by local advocacy group Unity in Action, in conjunction with the Mary J. Treglia Community House and the League of Women Voters, which was on hand to register people in the crowd to vote.
Attendees carried a wide variety of signs, many bilingual, some quoting Bible verses or Martin Luther King Jr., others with slogans like "Keep the kids deport the racists" and "Inhumane, Cruel and Evil," referring to ICE, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which has lately become a target of activists who say it should be eliminated. A few draped themselves in U.S. and Mexican flags.
Ismael Valadez, president of Unity in Action, said the event, which was one of about 700 held nationwide Saturday, was needed to call attention to one of the Trump Administration's most controversial recent moves.
"The fact that these kids are not being treated humanely, that's very concerning," Valadez said.
Several Native Americans, including South Sioux City activist Frank LeMere, spoke about their views on not only child separation, but on immigration in general. LaMere declared Native American tribes to be "the landlords" of the United States, adding that they don't share the Federal government's views on illegal immigration.
LaMere said he recently saw a sign bearing a message which summed up his thoughts on the subject.
"The sign said: 'There are no illegals on stolen land!'" he said.
Karen Mackey, a member of the Santee Sioux Tribe, had some dispiriting words on "the American Way," and whether controversial means of dealing with migrants are a part of that.
"There are people that believe that what's happening now, ripping small children from their parents' arms and putting them in cages, is not the American Way. Sadly, it is the American Way. This is the history of our country," Mackey said. She cited Indian boarding schools and World War II-era Japanese internment camps as examples of the warped American Way.
"Also during World War II, the U.S. government turned away Jewish refugees escaping Nazi Germany, and sent them to their deaths -- that is the American Way," she said. "But it isn't right. And we have to change that."
Others expanded on the theme of German Jews trying to flee Nazi persecution. The Rev. Ryan Dowell Baum, whose grandmother managed to escape the Nazis when she fled to the U.S. in 1939, said the negative attitude toward illegal immigrants in the U.S. has parallels in Nazi Germany.
"Pretty soon some of us start getting seen as more human than others, some of us start getting seen as more legal than others," Baum said. "And I remember today the stories that I grew up with, about how my grandparents were declared illegal, because Jews were considered a threat to the security of the German state."
Baum drew a line between today's apolitical observers of child separation and the "nice, Christian, church-going people" of 1930s Germany, who didn't speak out about crimes perpetuated against Jews so they could stay clear of the political fray.
"I'm here to say today, that this has nothing to do with politics, this is a matter of morality!" Baum said. "This is about our democracy!"
Teresa Wolff, a local Democratic volunteer, gave an impassioned speech describing a young illegal immigrant she knew personally who was sent back to Mexico.
Wolff later told the Journal that most locals, white people in particular, don't concern themselves with the family separation issue.
"I think pretty much they don't care," she said, adding that most local industries, including agriculture, home construction and the rebuilding of Interstate 29, would grind to a halt if it weren't for migrant laborers.
"I couldn't get one of my kids to get up at 4 o'clock in the morning, and go hook up cows on a machine to milk them," Wolff said. "(Immigrants) are people that are willing to work hard in order to become a part of America."