Amid chants of “vote them out,” calls for a variety of political action and even an announcement of a planned 2036 presidential bid, Nusheen Ameenuddin said the Families Belong Together rallies held throughout the nation Saturday weren’t about politics for her peers.
“For us, it’s not a political issue,” said the Mayo Clinic pediatrician, who immigrated to the U.S. as a child and is a member of the American Academy of Pediatricians. “This is not a partisan issue. This is an issue about children being harmed.”
Citing cases of “toxic stress,” Ameenuddin said separating children from their parents at the border can harm future development, causing brain damage, depression and a lifetime of anxiety and anger issues.
“This can last into adulthood,” she said, speaking to an estimated 300 or more attendees at the Rochester rally held in the Peace Plaza.
The local rally was one of more than 700 similar events held throughout the nation. Hundreds of thousands of marchers gathered Saturday throughout America, moved by accounts of children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. It was the latest act of mass resistance against President Donald Trump’s immigration policies.
Local activist Jeff Jurewicz said such policies are rooted in more than 100 years of foreign policy that has helped create chaos in Central American countries, often separating families within their own borders.
“We’ve been separating these families a long time,” he said, noting the result is people coming to the United States in an effort to escape turmoil in their home countries, which he linked to policies of past administrations.
Recent policy, he said, has added to problems after families fleeing extreme violence, persecution or economic collapse in their home countries were split up as they tried to enter the U.S.
“We are causing more trauma to people who have been experiencing an inexplicable amount of trauma,” he said.
Trump has backed away from the family separation policy amid bipartisan and international uproar, and those marching in Rochester and throughout the nation Saturday demanded the government quickly reunite the families that were already divided.
“Families need to be together,” said Danny Solis, noting concerns about other families united the local crowd that gathered in the 90-degree heat for two hours Saturday afternoon.
“Today, we are together as family,” he said, encouraging those in attendance to continue working for change.
Congressman Keith Ellison from Minnesota’s Fifth District, one of five candidates vying for the DFL slot on the Nov. 6 ballot for the state’s attorney general office, also called for those gathered in Rochester to unite in an effort to change policies he called “immoral.”
“Our best resistance is solidarity, folks,” he said. “One of the most powerful things you can do is love your neighbor.”
With that, he encouraged people to fight against current federal policies that undermine international human rights treaties.
“We cannot, as Americans, let this happen in our name,” he said, noting treaties call for protecting people seeking asylum, regardless of how they enter the country.
As rallies continued, Trump took to Twitter to show his support for policy changes at the border.
“When people come into our Country illegally, we must IMMEDIATELY escort them back out without going through years of legal maneuvering,” he wrote. “Our laws are the dumbest anywhere in the world. Republicans want Strong Borders and no Crime. Dems want Open Borders and are weak on Crime!”
In Rochester on Saturday, Ashalul Aden sought to highlight the fact that refugees and immigrants are frequently seeking safety and an end to turmoil.
Her parents fled Somalia in the 1993 and came to the United States as refugees, eventually raising their family in Rochester.
“My parents had hopes and dreams for their children to be born and raised in Somalia,” said the John Marshall High School graduate who is now studying political science. “They wanted their children to understand their homeland and appreciate the culture they came from. However, seeing that Somalia was unsafe and their future was unknown, my parents knew they had to leave.”
As rally participants continued calling for change in elected offices, Aden said she hopes to see change and wants to become part of it.
“I am happy to announce that in 2036, I will be eligible and plan on running for president of the United States of America,” she told a cheering crowd. “I will prove that a determined young, black, Muslim, child of refugees, woman, full of compassion, empathy and love is capable of becoming the leader of a country built at the hands of immigrants.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.