Organizers say 30,000 protesters gathered outside the White House for the Families Belong Together rally, where speakers made an emotional plea for children to be reunited with parents and an end to zero-tolerance immigration policies at the border.
Diane Guerrero, an actress known for her role on "Orange is the New Black," took the stage and recalled how her family was deported to Colombia when she was 14 years old.
She said the photos of children wrapped in Mylar emergency blankets at a Texas detention center showed an even darker reality.
"This is a chance for us to come together as a nation and rise above division and fear. Only then can we stop the separation of families and stop the policies that place children in cages," she said. "So for our families and our children, let us march and make our voices heard."
Alicia Keys, Lin-Manuel Miranda and America Ferrera were among other celebrities who stood in front of a crowd near the White House, decrying policies adopted by President Donald Trump's administration that they say have caused pain for immigrant families.
Keys and Ferrera stood together and urged the crowd to vote for representatives who would work to end zero-tolerance policies toward migrants at the border.
Lin-Manuel Miranda performed a rendition of "Dear Theodosia," from the "Hamilton" soundtrack.
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"We're here because there are parents who can't sing lullabies to their kids," Miranda said.
Speakers decried the policy of separating children from their parents at the border or through deportation. They urged officials to quickly reunite the families.
One young speaker, through tears, asked "Why do they hurt us like this?"
She said she lives in constant fear that her mother will be deported.
"I don't understand why this administration won't support mothers who just want a better life for their children," she said.
Traci Blackmon, a leader in the United Church of Christ, called on America's dark past of separating slave children from their families, sending Native American children from their homes to white schools and interning citizens of Japanese descent during World War II.
"We have been this way before, and we must not forget," Blackmon said.
John Tateishi recounted his family's journey to a Japanese internment camp during World War II, after a 1942 executive order resulted in Japanese-Americans being incarcerated on suspicion of being loyal to Japan.
Tateishi said he was taken from his mother in the camp to be treated for German measles. He was 2 years old, he said.
"I always wondered what it did to my mother," Tateishi said. "For the time that I was separated from the family, all day long, my mother would cry."
Tateishi said the policy to detain citizens of Japanese descent and the current zero-tolerance policies are the same.
"Neither judges the individual but condemns the group," he said.
A 75-year-old Holocaust survivor and Rabbinical pastor took the stage and spoke about the two years she spent away from her parents.
"I was traumatized, and I was afraid, and this stayed with me to today," she said.
One mother, identified only as Jocelyn, said through an interpreter that she was separated from her son for nine months after crossing the border in August of 2017.
"I was terrified I would never see him again," she said. "I spent many days sick and without hope."
Jocelyn said she was transferred to a federal prison and two detention centers before getting a lawyer who helped to secure her release.
Jocelyn and her son were reunited on June 5, she said.
“I wanted to join this fight to get my son back, and for mothers who are suffering because they are away from their children," Jocelyn said.
Members of the crowd chanted in response, "We see you, we love you."
Speakers paraded on and off stage for about two and a half hours, sharing personal stories and political calls to action.
A Maryland mother who was one of hundreds arrested during a protest at the Hart Senate Office Building on Thursday encouraged the crowd to boycott companies invested or involved with detention centers.
A child psychologist, Amy Cohen, shared insights from her time travelling to a detention center in McAllen, Texas where children were being held.
"A child's very sense of safety and security is tied to their knowledge that their parent will be present," Cohen said.
The main D.C. rally kicked off in Lafayette Square, just north of the White House, about 11 a.m. Saturday. A crowd began gathering more than an hour before.
Attendees to all events were asked to participate nonviolently and wear white to show solidarity.
After the rally, protesters marched through D.C. to the Department of Justice, even amid sweltering temperatures. Organizers set up water stations near the rally and along the march route.
“It’s important to let people know that what’s going on here in the United States is just wrong. It’s an atrocity,” said Sonia Ballinger, a member of the Loudoun County Democratic Committee. “Children should not be separated from their families.”
The protests were planned as news broke that 2,000 children were being separated from their parents at the southern border.
President Trump ended the policy that separated children from their parents after crossing the border. It's unclear when those children will be reunited with their parents.
Lawyers for the administration now assert that families can be detained together until their immigration cases make their way through the back-logged courts.
Protest organizers are demanding action from the government to reunite families, end family detention and the zero-tolerance policy for people entering the country.
The protests planned around the country are scheduled to coincide with the D.C. protest, including in Frederick, Maryland and Fredericksburg, Virginia. A full list can be found here.
Several protests and demonstrations marked the week before Saturday's protest.
About 100 protesters converged on Freedom Plaza Wednesday, chanting and carrying signs with messages such as “Fighting for our Families.”
Hundreds of people flooded the Senate Hart Office Building on Thursday to protest President Donald Trump's immigration policies. Many were wrapped in silver emergency blankets, echoing images of children who were inside a South Texas detention facility.
[NATL] Photos Show Children Kept in Cages With Foil Sheets in South Texas Border Patrol Facility
U.S. Capitol Police said officers arrested about 575 protesters and charged them with unlawfully demonstrating.