At noon Wednesday, Maine mothers in Portland, Bangor, Augusta, Biddeford and Caribou staged “play date protests” with their children at the congressional district offices of Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.
The action was part of a national effort organized by Mainers for Accountable Leadership, and was conducted to protest the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” border policy, including family separations, and the ongoing crisis of the detention camps at the border.
“Protest is intergenerational,” said Marie Follaytar, co-director of Mainers for Accountable Leadership. “This is not a time to be silent or remain inactive, and we need to teach this norm to our children.”
The protesters numbered between 50 to 100 over the course of the rally in Portland, according to several estimates. Protesters cycled in and out of the senator’s office while children drew pictures, sang songs and made posters.
Six protesters were spotted at Collins’ Bangor office.
Reports of unsafe and unsanitary conditions at the border have been steady. Last month, it was reported that detained migrants lacked hygienic items such as toothpaste, toothbrushes and shampoo. The Department of Homeland Security’s independent watchdog said that “overcrowded, squalid conditions are more widespread along the southern border than initially revealed,” the New York Times reported Tuesday, finding children with few spare clothes and no laundry facilities and adults kept in standing-room-only conditions for a week.
U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, visited border facilities in El Paso and Clint, Texas, earlier this week, tweeting that detained migrants were being forced to drink from toilets as their only water source.
On Monday, a stunning report from ProPublica described a secret Facebook group comprised of 9,500 current and former Customs and Border Protection agents — a number nearly half of its active force — engaging in racist and sexist commentary. It was later condemned by the U.S. Head of Border Patrol.
A press release from Mainers for Accountable Leadership, a PAC coordinating Wednesday’s protest, said: “These conditions are the product of a cruel and intentional strategy by the Trump administration to terrorize immigrant communities, criminalize immigration, and dismantle our asylum laws. From imprisoning children in inhumane detention centers, threatening widespread raids to break up families, and covering up reports of migrants dying in U.S. custody, we must come together to permanently end family detention and separation, ensure all families are reunited, and close the camps.”
Dini Merz, a co-director of Mainers for Accountable Leadership, said that the organization has asked their members to contact Collins and independent U.S. Sen. Angus King, as well as Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, asking them to offer more than “bold statements” to pressure the administration to improve conditions at the camps any way they can. But Collins is a strategic choice.
“We want Sen. Collins more than anyone because she has some sway in the Trump camp, because he has needed her help in pushing forward his agenda,” Merz said. “That’s why we are having this particular action focused on her.”
Last week, the Republican-led Senate passed a $4.6 billion aid package that President Donald Trump said would deliver aid to the southern border. The bill reportedly contains $1 billion to shelter and feed migrants detained by the border patrol and nearly $3 billion to care for unaccompanied migrant children who are turned over to the Department of Health and Human Services. Earlier, the Senate rejected a House version of the bill that included new health and safety standards for jailed migrants. The Senate bill provides additional funding for Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Defense Department.
In a statement to the Bangor Daily News, a spokesperson for Collins said that the senator “has been appalled by reports about the conditions many children have been experiencing in custody at the border, including a lack of basic personal hygiene products like soap and toothpaste, and she has heard from many Mainers who share her concern.”
The statement also said Collins “believes we need comprehensive immigration reform, a better way of handling asylum claims, more immigration judges, a sensible system for guest workers, and a long-term solution for DREAMers, along with stronger border security.”
Collins voted to confirm two of the primary architects of the Trump administration’s border policy, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former Director of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, who was removed in April. King also voted to confirm Nielsen. Acting Customs and Border Commissioner John Sanders announced last week that he would be leaving his position effective July 5.