BREMERTON — About 300 people gathered at Evergreen Park’s 9/11 memorial on Saturday. Their message reverberated throughout the park.
“Say it loud, say it clear, immigrants are welcome here,” protesters chanted. “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here.”
The protests have come on the heels of a zero tolerance immigration policy implemented by the White House to prosecute all individuals who enter the country illegally. As a result, children who cross the border with their parents are separated
During a six-week period in April and May, there were nearly 2,000 children separated from their families. As of June 20, the Department of Health and Human Services reported that it has 2,053 separated minors in its care, according to numbers on its website.
The event, one of hundreds held simultaneously across the country, was organized by Megan Jennings, a Bremerton resident, who admitted it was put together rather quickly. But it drew plenty of attention in the city, and several members of the Bremerton city council and Mayor Greg Wheeler were in attendance.
“The White Houses’s zero tolerance immigration policy has resulted in separation of undocumented parents and kids,” Wheeler said. “The practice and policy today of removing children from their parents care at our border with Mexico is disgraceful and a shame to our country.”
Wheeler spoke about his role in ensuring the citizens of the city were safe and welcomed. He said that Bremerton Police Department officers do not ask for immigration status when they go into a neighborhood or a home, noting he does not want to have a community where people are afraid to ask for help.
Some locals came forward to share their own stories of emigrating to the United States in the hopes of putting a human face and a story on each immigrant, such as Sheelan Abdulla, a city resident and member of the Islamic Center of Kitsap County. Abdulla relayed the story of relatives who were killed in the Kurdish genocide in 1988, causing the rest of the family to flee. They were eventually accepted as asylum-seekers and moved to the U.S. in the early 1990s.
Martitha May, the co-founder of Kitsap Immigration Assistance Center, said that many immigrants risk their lives coming over the border, all in the spirit of creating a better life for their children.
“They don’t come here to take jobs away, they come here to survive,” May said.