Despite temperatures above 90 degrees on Saturday, hundreds of people marched up Broadway from Congress Park to protest the separation of undocumented immigrant children from their parents by President Donald Trump's administration.
Although Trump signed an executive order last week to halt the controversial practice, people still came out to participate in the "Families Belong Together" rally to voice their opposition to the zero tolerance approach to illegal immigration, many of them chanting "Love not hate makes America great!" as they marched toward City Hall.
Other "Families Belong Together" rallies were held in Glens Falls, Albany, Washington D.C. and other locations.
During the rally portion of the event, Maxine Lindig Lautenberg, a member of the Saratoga Immigration Coalition, was one of the speakers. She said her organization was formed in response to a series of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency raids in Saratoga Springs that arrested more than 30 suspected undocumented immigrants in 2017. Lautenberg advocated for the Trump administration to hold the family unit sacred, treat immigrants more humanely and reunite separated children and families. She also told people to go out and vote.
"I went to the Democratic primary this week, and I was only the 17th person in my district to vote, that is insane! Don't be apathetic, don't be passive, be active," she said.
Although the event was originally scheduled to have seven speakers, only four spoke because of the heat.
Speaker Minita Sanghvi said she came to the U.S. as a student in 2001. She said she decided she should not return to India because she was gay, and she was being pressured to get married.
"I came to the United States to live my life as an authentic gay woman and to live my true identity," she said. "We are all immigrants! Whether we came here 100 years ago, or we came here 200 years ago, we came here for a better life. All we need to tell the Trump administration that we need to treat people with respect and dignity, because that's all they want, a better life in America."
Sanghvi said she's always faced some discrimination since coming out as a gay woman, but she believes she has seen more instances of anti-immigrant bias against her since Trump's election.
"I remember right after Trump got elected we had a rally here, and people, as we passed by, me and my family, people were shouting from the road saying things like 'go back home, you don't belong here, ' those kinds of things," she said.
Jenica Acheta, age 20, a 2015 graduate of Ballston Spa, attended the rally Saturday. She said the topic of immigration affects her personally, as her mother emigrated legally from Mexico to California and knew other undocumented immigrants who worked for years "in the fields" before getting a green card.
She said becoming a citizen of the U.S. is an expensive and time-consuming process fraught with many difficulties. She said she registered to vote Saturday at a table set up at the rally by the Saratoga County League of Women Voters because she felt galvanized by the controversy.
"I wasn't very into politics in high school, or into college," she said. "I think social media is helping to organize people, that's how I found out about this event."
Acheta said she understands that Trump and some of his supporters have concerns about border security, but she feels the separation of children from their parents has been fundamentally immoral.
"If I were to talk to a Trump supporter I would tell them that this is honestly very selfish to think it's OK for something like this to happen," she said. "I see where they are coming from, I'm a very open-minded person. I know the safety of our country is at stake, but there's a fine line between safety and morality, and we're humans at the end of the day, and we need to support each other. This is a basic right, to be with your family."
Norah Brennan, a member of the progressive organization Saratoga Unites, organized the rally. She said she believes as many as 700 such rallies were held across the U.S., organized through moveon.org.
"I think having trying to have seven speeches today was aspirational, but I think we did fairly well. It was one of the larger events I've been to in Saratoga Springs," she said.