Children pack Senate office building to protest family separations

Nearly 100 children and their families filled the Hart Senate Office Building on Thursday morning to protest the Trump administration's family separation policy, hours before a court-ordered deadline to reunify all families.

The protest was organized by Families Belong Together, a coalition of more than 100 civil rights groups.

Jess Morales Rocketto, director of the organizing group, said her coalition "will not rest" until the policy is over.

"Throughout this process, it's very clear that the Trump administration has never had a plan to reunify these families," Morales Rocketto said. "The only thing that made a difference is our pressure."

Organizers said the government has reunified close to 1,000 children of the 2,000 separated, but some migrant parents have already been deported without their children. 

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) joined the demonstrators. She said Trump officials had said some parents chose to leave the country without their children.

"Nobody chooses to be separated, unlike what this administration is saying," Cortez Masto said. "[Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen] tried to tell me that the 463 parents who had already been deported chose to leave their children behind."

Thursday is the court appointed deadline for the administration to finish reuniting families separated because of President Trump's "zero tolerance" immigration policy. Officials will not be able to reunite children from all of the 2,551 families affected by the policy, but a judge on Wednesday praised the administration's progress.

With crayons and Play-Doh, children drew pictures and sang songs in the building. They wore T-shirts and held signs that read "I am a child," a reference to the "I am a man" posters during the 1960s civil rights movement.

The families, some of whom came from other states like Colorado, marched from St. Mark's Episcopal Church, a few blocks away from Capitol Hill.

Katie Hamm, who protested with her 2-year-old son Nathaniel, said it was important to set an example for her child, even if he did not understand immigration policy now.

"I hope that when he does understand one day, that he will look back on this time and I'll be able to tell him that, as a family, we stood up and we did something," she said. "We'll have a story to tell."

Donna Norton, executive vice president of Moms Rising, said bringing children to the protest was intended to show how "precious every child is." She said, as a mother, she "can't imagine anything worse" than being separated from a child.

After Capitol Police warned the protesters of potential arrest, the demonstrators dispersed and attempted to meet with senators. They encouraged children to show lawmakers their drawings.

Morales Rocketto said her coalition will continue the efforts even after all families are reunified.

"We're really committed to seeing through every single family and making sure that they're supported and, and have legal representation, find housing, etc.," she said. "They came to America expecting a welcome and they have the door shut down their faces."