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'Speak out': Rock Hill joins nationwide immigration protests, draws new supporters

Protestors gathered outside U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham's Rock Hill office Saturday night to protest Pres. Donald Trump's "zero tolerance" immigration policy.
Protestors gathered outside U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham's Rock Hill office Saturday night to protest Pres. Donald Trump's "zero tolerance" immigration policy.

Almost 100 people gathered Saturday night in downtown Rock Hill to join thousands nationwide protesting President Donald Trump's "zero tolerance" immigration policy, which has resulted in thousands of children of illegal immigrants being separate from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The crowd gathered in front of U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham's Rock Hill office with signs reading: "No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here," "Families belong together" and "They are children!"

Joey Crouch, an organizer, said it was his first time leading a protest. He said it felt especially important to do something.

"I think for a lot of people, there's kids involved and that makes it seem that much more sinister," Crouch said. "And it hits your heartstrings that much more.”

Trump signed an executive order June 20 ending his policy of separating children from their parents at the border, but the order didn't specify how children already separated would be reunited with their families.

Mark Ali, who ran against Archie Parnell in the Democratic congressional primary June 12, knows what it's like to be an undocumented immigrant. He once overstayed his visa in the U.S. and was considered to be in the country illegally.

Ali is now an American citizen, but said seeing pictures of immigrant children in detention centers, especially as a father himself, was difficult.

"We have to promote humanity," Ali said. "We're treating people like they're animals. Like they're subhuman."

Many protestors Saturday had never been part of a political rally before. Suzanne Mitchell of Lancaster, at her first political protest, said she felt she had to come.

"I want to emphasize how inhumane Trump is being with humans," she said. "It just touches a nerve and makes my heart sad."

Joy Robinson of Rock Hill said she only started going to political protests in the last year, after Trump was elected president.

"We need to stand up and say that cruelty and racism is not acceptable," she said. "It's not his country, it's ours."

Robinson said she held out hope, after Trump was elected, that he might do something positive with the presidency. So she paid close attention to him between his election and the inauguration.

"But he spent the whole time tweeting and being mean and hateful," she said. "So by the time he was inaugurated, I knew we were in trouble."

Crouch said he and other organizers reached out to Graham's office to ask someone from his staff to attend the protest and hear their voices. He said they told him no one would be working Saturday.

“I find it a little bit concerning that this number of constituents are coming out and nobody can find time to come talk to us over an issue that we are very clearly concerned about," he said.

Graham joined the ranks of Republicans speaking out against the Trump administration's "zero-tolerance" policy, saying during a June 17 CNN interview, "President Trump could stop this policy with a phone call."

Graham was one of the lead sponsors of the "Keep Families Together and Enforce the Law Act," introduced June 20 to house children and parents together indefinitely until their court proceedings were finished.

The bill echoes an attempt by former President Barack Obama to detain families together indefinitely. It was halted by a judge in the Flores settlement, deciding immigrant children could be held for no more than 20 days.

York County Democratic Party chairperson Jim Thompson said it's important for residents to keep showing up.

"Just continue to speak out and voice your opinions," Thompson said. "That’s what America is all about."

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