Hundreds Rally In Lakeland Demanding That “Families Belong Together”
by James Coulter
Just as a great melting pot once forged the bronze swan statue at Lake Mirror in Lakeland, so too has the Great American Melting Pot forged the great country of America.
This message of inclusivity and diversity was made loud and clear on Saturday evening during a rally in Lakeland as a part of the nationwide Families Belong Together rally.
More than a hundred protesters rallied at Lake Mirror carrying signs announcing solidarity with immigrant families and against the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policies.
The rally started in front of the swan statue overlooking the Frances Langford Promenade before making its way to Munn Park within Downtown Lakeland.
As protesters marched with their signs, they shouted chants such as “refugees are welcome here” and “immigrants not hate make America great” in English as well as Spanish.
While the protesters mostly received positive feedback through cars honking in solidarity, a few hecklers would shout “go home” or “build the wall” at them.
Even with heavy rain earlier that day with a gray overcast and slight drizzle that evening, nearly a hundred protesters attended the rally that evening to show their support for immigration and opposition towards xenophobia.
“This is certainly exceeding expectations,” said Fidel Arbolaez of Polk County Florida For a Just Future, which helped spearhead the rally.
Attending the rally were many concerned citizens, as well as members of local political advocacy groups and labor unions such as the International Workers of the World (IWW).
Joey Leach, an IWW member, believes that, contrary to popular belief, immigration does not affect the employment or wages of American worker. He also recognizes that many of the issues that his fellow laborers face are also shared by many undocumented workers, which is why he stands in solidarity with them.
“These people coming from other countries are not affecting our labor status in this country, they are not affecting the unemployment numbers at all, [and] they are not here to take American jobs,” he said.
Bob Doyel, candidate for State Senate District 22, previously attended a similar rally earlier that day in Clermont, with him and his fellow protesters braving an hour of rain as they stood along Highway 50.
Having served as a family court judge for more than 16 years, he cares greatly about how immigrant families are being treated at the border.
“Whether it rains or not, the main thing is for us to speak loud and clear that we don’t like the damage that the federal government is doing to children and families,” he said.
This small gathering in Lakeland was one of several hundred rallies hosted nationwide in protest of President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policies.
More than 700 protests were hosted in cities and towns across the country, with the main rally being hosted in Washington D.C. and drawing in thousands of attendees on Saturday.
The Families Belong Together rally, organized in part by the left-wing political advocacy group MoveOn.org, served as a response to the strict immigration policies being implemented by the current administration.
This “zero tolerance” approach towards immigration, as promoted by President Trump and carried out by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, prosecutes illegal border crossings as criminal offenses, as reported by The Washington Post.
Upon being apprehended at the border, immigrant adults are detained within federal jails while their children are separated from them and taken into custody at shelters operated by U.S. Health & Human Services (HHS).
As such, this “zero tolerance” crackdown has increased the number of parent and child separations at the U.S.-Mexico border. The Washington Post reports: “The number of migrant children held in U.S. government custody without their parents has surged 21 percent in the past month.”
The separation of immigrant children from their parents especially received national attention a month ago following reports of more than 1,500 immigrant children being misplaced by the U.S. Government. Also sparking controversy was the news coverage of Casa Padre, a Texas detention facility converted from a Wal-Mart currently housing more than 1,400 children.
These “zero tolerance” immigration policies have led to a political backlash from left-wing politicians and immigrant rights groups and advocates, sparking numerous protests such as the “Families Belong Together” rally.
Such a backlash has prompted government officials to address these immigration policies and the problems associated with them.
A California judge recently ordered U.S. border authorities to reunite separated children with their families within the next 30 days. Even President Trump himself signed an executive order ending the practice of separating parents and children detained at the border.
Arbolaez hopes that these rallies help spur further change. Considering the sheer numbers that attended this local rally, he believes there is more than enough support nationwide to hopefully prompt such change.
“I am really glad that people are braving the possibility of getting rained on just to stand up and fight for human rights that every human being on this earth deserves,” he said.