SOUTH PORTLAND — About 100 demonstrators shouted into megaphones, chanted “not in our country” and sang songs to protest Trump administration policies that have resulted in separating children from families at the border.

Liberal activists and religious leaders staged the event Thursday in front of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office in South Portland as part of a National Day of Action protesting the “zero tolerance” policies.

Four of the protesters attempted to enter the office but were told by Department of Homeland Security police that they could not enter without an appointment. When the protesters at first refused to leave the property, they were issued misdemeanor citations for failure to obey a lawful order by DHS police.

Similar protests were planned at dozens of locations across the country.

About 650 children were separated from their families at the U.S. border during a two-week period in May, as a result of the “zero tolerance” border enforcement policy that started earlier this year, according to Politifact, a fact-checking site operated by The Tampa Bay Times.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said that the policy – enacted in April – was put in place to bolster border patrol efforts and crack down on illegal immigration. Past administrations, when families would arrive at the border illegally, would typically detain the families, send them immediately back to their home country or permit the families to seek asylum as political refugees, according to Politifact.

Trump, in a tweet on May 26, falsely blamed the Democrats and the law for forcing the administration to separate children from their families. There is no such law, and it’s the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy driving the separations.

In South Portland, protesters held up signs saying “We Have Become the Hunger Games,” “Stop Family Separation” and “Families Belong Together.”

“Let’s breathe in our righteous anger,” said the Rev. Jodi Cohen Hayashida, of First Universalist Church in Auburn. “Remember, in our country, we are not powerless. This only happens in our country if we permit it.”

Jessica Stewart, a Catholic social justice activist and one of the four protesters cited for trespassing, said it’s “immoral” for the Trump administration to separate children from families when they don’t have to.

“We are criminalizing families who are seeking safety here. It is abhorrent,” Stewart said. “We are normalizing the idea that it’s OK to terrorize people. When we are taking breastfeeding infants away from their mothers we are on the wrong side of history.”

Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, have signed onto Senate and House versions of “Keep Families Together Act” which would force the Trump administration to stop the separations.

“I’m deeply troubled by the administration’s approach of taking children away from parents at the border,” Pingree said in a statement. “We’ve all heard the stories of babies being ripped out of mothers’ arms. Now they’re planning to build a tent city for young children. Like many of my colleagues. I’m cosponsoring a bill that would basically prohibit this practice. We need to have an end to this.”

King said in a statement that “America cannot just live by its national values when convenient – it has to be a full-time commitment. The (Department of Homeland Security’s) policy that purposely separates children from their parents falls far short of our principles, and it should be stopped immediately.”

King, in a tweet on Thursday, said “I can’t imagine anything more wrong, or less American, than separating a mother and her baby.”

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is studying the issue and looking for solutions, said her spokeswoman, Annie Clark.

“Senator Collins believes that the safety and security of young children must always be paramount,” Clark said in an email response to questions. “She is very concerned about the plight of children whose parents are arrested for illegally crossing the border rather than presenting themselves at legal ports of entry. She believes these children should not be traumatized as a result of the illegal actions of their parents.”

U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, is examining the issue, according to his spokesman, Brendan Conley.

“He’s reviewing the issue and is pushing Congress to act on meaningful immigration reform quickly. For far too long – decades – Congress has failed to act on meaningful immigration reform, spanning periods of time in which both parties have had full control of Congress and the White House,” Conley said in an email response to questions.

Sandra Scribner Merlim of Naples, who’s husband, Otto Morales-Caballeros, was deported in 2017 to Guatemala, slammed the Trump administration for its immigration policies. Morales-Caballeros, 38, entered the U.S. illegally as a teenager, and the two were married in 2015. The Obama administration delayed a deportation order for Morales-Caballeros, but under Trump, he was deported.

Merlim said the children are “innocent and don’t pose a threat to anyone.”

“This is not normal. This is not our America,” Merlim said.

Organizing the protest were the liberal groups Mainers for Accountable Leadership and the Maine Poor People’s Campaign.

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

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