Miami Protesters March Against Jeff Sessions Sanctuary-City Speech
photo by Paola de Varona

Miami Protesters March Against Jeff Sessions Sanctuary-City Speech

Julio Calderon, a undocumented immigrant from Honduras, clutches a megaphone in the sweltering August sun and wipes tears from his eyes. He has a message for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is speaking to a crowd of Miami-Dade police and political leaders just down the street. "I don't think I should be criminalized and deported because I want to stay here," Calderon says.

A few dozen protesters gathered at the Torch of Friendship in Bayfront Park this afternoon to push back against Sessions' praise for Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez's decision to end the county's status as a "sanctuary city" protecting undocumented residents from federal agents.

Organizers from Florida Immigration Coalition Votes (FLIC Votes) and the Miami-Dade Democratic Party rallied the crowd, asking, "What do we do when our families are under attack? Stand up, fight back!"

The protesters marched to two other symbols of Miami's historic immigrant culture: PortMiami and the Freedom Tower. While an undocumented mother, clutching her three small daughters as her lanky son stood by her side, told the crowd of the assaults and violence she and her children feared in their home country, Stephanie Zavala masked her sobs toward the back.

The 25-year-old Miami native, who has also come out for the Women's March and other demonstrations, called in late to work to be at Bayside. "My mom is from Colombia," she says. "She's an American citizen. But what would happen if she wasn't?"

As she looked at the young children holding signs made by their parents, shaken by their uncertain future, all Zavala could think was, "Those four kids could lose her. That's who we should think about, not us."

The demonstrators continued forward as the kids frolicked along, crossing the bustling Biscayne Boulevard and stopping traffic as they slowly marched to the beat of a booming drum. Their cries cut through the halted cars: "Education, not deportation!"

At PortMiami, Sessions set a very different tone. The attorney general railed against immigrants for supposedly spiking crime — an argument that's not backed up by any crime data. Sessions heaped praise on Mayor Gimenez for cowering before Trump's threats, which have already been halted in court, and suggested the move is a reason for decreased crime in Miami — an obviously bogus boast.

Back on Biscayne Boulevard, the marchers' chants died down when the crowd reached the Freedom Tower. A moment of silence was called for "those who have given their lives for freedom and equality," following Heather Heyer's death at the hands of a white supremacist in Charlottesville. One man in all white, still mounted on his bicycle, bowed his head over his clasped hands toward the handlebars as the crowd went quiet.

The FLIC Votes organizer broke the silence by solemnly asking the crowd: "If we are not about this, what are we about?"

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