Waco was one of hundreds of cities that hosted protests Saturday against President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, which led to the separation of families crossing the United States’ southern border.

The Waco Immigrants Alliance helped organize the local rally at Heritage Square in downtown Waco, “Families Belong Together.”

“We cannot sit by and be idle and allow such an atrocity to happen right before our eyes,” Haris Siddiq, a recent high school graduate, told a crowd of more than 200 people. “We want justice, we want action and we want basic human decency.”

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Isabella Martinez, 4, holds up a sign reading, “Kids Need Parents,” at Heritage Square on Saturday at a rally protesting President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy.

Trump signed an executive order last week banning family separation, but more than 2,000 children remain separated from their families, according to reports. In a court filing Friday, the Justice Department indicated migrant families will be detained together moving forward.

It was the second rally in Waco this month against the policy. The first, organized by local faith leaders, also drew hundreds to Heritage Square. Large rallies on the issue were held across the country Saturday.

Many of the messages in Waco were conveyed in English and Spanish.

“We have to speak up,” said Ernesto Fraga, publisher of Tiempo newspaper. “We have to say something. When our kids and grand-kids grow up, and get into college, they’re going to be asking us, ‘What did you do in 2018 when this was going on?’”

Waco immigration attorney Analí Looper, of the nonprofit American Gateways, said past administrations did not prosecute all cases because it does not make fiscal sense or deter illegal immigration. She said Attorney General Jeff Sessions this month stripped many asylum protections away from immigrants.

“It’s truly atrocious what we are doing in this country,” Looper said. “So people that are fleeing gang violence, people that are fleeing domestic violence are likely not to receive protection in our country any longer. This is the vast majority of people that are seeking asylum in our country right now. It’s not OK. … There is no plan. There is absolutely no plan for reuniting these children.”

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Residents gather at Heritage Square for “Families Belong Together,” hosted by Waco Immigrants Alliance.

U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, a Bryan Republican who represents Waco, first said Trump was “correct to enforce the law,” and that “the act of crossing the border illegally should not be tolerated.” He later praised the president for ending the family separation policy.

Every immigrant family is affected by Trump policies building fear and mistrust, local attorney Kent McKeever said. The uptick in enforcement has affected the Waco community, he said.

“I hope this shows there are people that love and care for our immigrant community and that not everyone feels the same way as our administration and a lot of our political leaders,” McKeever said. “We really don’t like what’s happening. We want better for them and for the rest of us in our community.”

Speakers encouraged the crowd to vote in November, and registration cards were available.

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Residents gather at Heritage Square for the "Families Belong Together" rally, which protested President Donald Trump's "zero tolerance" immigration policy. 

“Resistance,” Temple resident Bill Broughton said of his political motivation.

“We’ve got to stand up,” Bill Broughton said. “This country has turned on its heels in a very short time.”

Lori Broughton, his spouse, is a Texas delegate for the Democratic Party. She recently returned from the party convention in Fort Worth.

“I’m hoping this motivates them to vote and learn from this, how fast our country can be changed for the bad, not for the good,” she said. “The rhetoric (Trump) uses, he tries to divide us with it. Everything is negative that comes out of his mouth. Nothing is good. Nothing is wholesome.”

And Rudy Guerrero, a 40-year resident of Waco, said the president’s rhetoric, including his use of the word “alien,” is harmful to the national dialogue.

“Hopefully we can get these families back together,” he said. “I’ve never seen nothing like this before. It’s sad. We watch this on TV and it practically brings me to tears seeing kids being separated. These gatherings like this are going to make a difference next time we get ready to vote.”

Phillip Ericksen joined the Tribune-Herald in March 2015 as a sports copy editor. That November, he joined the news team. He has covered higher education, city hall, politics and crime.

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