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Community members protest U.S. immigration policies, advocate for families in PI

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — A small but passionate group of 12 individuals, including two children, gathered outside Hardscrabble Solutions on Main Street in Presque Isle Saturday afternoon, holding cardboard signs with messages such as “Be Kind to Kids” and “Keep Families Together” to speak out against what they believe to be unjust immigration policies from U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration. 

The “Families Belong Together” event was organized locally by Lillie Lavado, who owns and operates the family-friendly coworking space, and became one of more than 700 similar marches across the country. In Maine, “Families Belong Together” protests were held in Presque Isle, Bangor, Augusta, Bath, Brunswick, Portland, Bar Harbor, Damariscotta, Farmington, Machias, Lewiston, Auburn, Prospect Harbor and Vinalhaven.

“I was scrolling through news sites one evening and my 4-year-old daughter saw a photo of migrant children lying on mats in one of the detention camps. She asked, ‘Mommy, why are those kids lying under foil?’” Lavado said, of her inspiration for organizing the march. “These are the images our government has put into the minds of children even though we’re supposed to be a country that supports human rights.”

Lorette Adams of Mars Hill wears a jacket that says, “I Care, Poliquin, Do U?” The jacket references U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin of Maine and the jacket worn by U.S. First Lady Melania Trump that said “I Really Don’t Care, Do You?” which caused backlash after she wore it on her way to detention facilities where children of illegal immigrants are being held near the southern U.S. border. Adams was one of 12 people who participated in a “Families Belong Together” march in Presque Isle on Saturday. (Melissa Lizotte)

In recent weeks, since the Trump administration issued a “zero tolerance” immigration policy, over 2,500 children were forcibly taken from their parents at the U.S.-Mexican border and placed in detention camps, many of which have been said to resemble cages, after the families were caught crossing the border illegally.

On Tuesday, June 26, U.S. District Court Judge Dana M. Sabraw in San Diego ordered the Trump administration to reunite the roughly 2,000 migrant children that are still being held from their parents within 30 days, or 14 days for any minors 5 years old or under. But the administration has thus far given no clear answer on when or how it plans to reunite those families.

Lavado said she has continually been disappointed with the administration’s approach to immigration policy, which she feels has roots in racism. She decided to hold a “Families Belong Together” march in part to inspire her own daughters and people in the community to advocate for equal treatment of migrant families.

“I want people to know that even though we’re geographically isolated from what’s happening at the border we’re still responsible for advocating for others and speaking up for what is right,” Lavado said. Her two daughters Saraphina, 4, and Miriam, 7, also participated in Saturday’s march, proudly holding up their own signs that said “Trump is Poop” and “Re-Unite Children,” respectively.

As the local protesters showed their support for immigrant families on Saturday they received many waves and honks of support from drivers who passed them on Main Street. They often shouted to the traffic, “Keep Families Together” and remained in good spirits as they reflected on what activism means to them.

Alanna Morin of Presque Isle held up a handmade sign that read “Free the Children! We are better than this. Keep families together.” In years past Morin has worked as an English language tutor for Mexican migrant workers who come to Aroostook County during the summer and fall crop season. The recent events at the southern border, she said, have reminded her how important it is to be empathetic toward others.

“I’ve seen firsthand how hard these migrants work to provide for their families and devote hours to harvesting crops for people,” Morin said. “Instead of criminalizing people who are simply trying to escape danger happening in their country, we should offer them support and assistance, not judgement.”

Belen Dougherty of Tennessee had travelled to Aroostook County with her husband to visit his family in Mapleton when a friend shared with her the post about the “Families Belong Together” march on the Hardscrabble Solutions Facebook page.

“As a mother I want to spread the message that we need to care for others who don’t have the advantage of advocating for themselves,” Dougherty said. “It’s great that people have come out today and want to make a difference.”

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