More than 500 people marched from Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler’s office on Officers Row to Esther Short Park on Saturday spreading messages of love and support for immigrants. Protesters chanted phrases including “Love, not hate, that’s what makes America great,” and “Say it loud, say it clear: immigrants are welcome here.”
The turnout coincided with a national effort known as Families Belong Together organized by MoveOn. Organizer Mary Laski, a member of MoveOn Clark County, said the crowd surpassed her expectations. Unlike a similar protest in Portland, Vancouver’s march drew scant counterprotests, just two people. They were armed with signs decrying “fake news” and launched into a brief chant supporting a border wall.
Once the crowd arrived at Esther Short Park — a trip that took nearly 45 minutes due to the large numbers of marchers — several immigrants and supporters were invited to share their stories.
Wilitha Andrews Jariu opened with the story of her husband’s arrest by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
“At 5:45 in the morning, Feb. 23, ICE took my husband,” Jariu said. “My husband was a hard-working individual in this country who did not have a criminal record.”
She described the morning of his arrest and days since as seeming unreal.
“It still feels like an illusion,” she continued. “I did not see the arrest. Nobody sees this happen. It happens in the wee hours of the morning while you’re sleeping. For all the kids who are here, the story of the boogeyman is true, it’s absolutely true. It represents ICE.”
She held up a cellphone before leaving the stage. The audience could see her husband via video stream.
“This is what it looks like when you separate families,” Jariu said.
Shirin Elkoshairi, a U.S. citizen who also has citizenship in Egypt, spoke about immigration and the reality of the situation for many seeking asylum. But first, he addressed the counterprotesters.
“On the way here I saw a sign that said this is all fake news so you guys can just go home,” Elkoshairi said. “But I like the fact they have a place they can still voice their opinion, as wrong as it may be.”
He said many who seek asylum do so because of U.S. foreign policy.
“We wanted your food, we wanted your oil, you’re strategically poised next to a country we don’t like,” he said. “You have something we want and all of a sudden we decide you have drug or you have terrorists in your midst and then we pursue you.”
Eulalia Soto, an immigration attorney based in Vancouver, closed out the march bringing the conversation back to the White House administration’s policy to separate children and parents at the border. She said it costs $200 a day to house an adult in a detainment facility, $319 for a family and $775 for a child.
“This is a moneymaking machine. It is cruel and we need to stop it,” Soto said. “Continue the movement and put a stop to their cruelty. This is not what the United States is about.”