Dozens of Camas-Washougal families turned out Saturday for the Vancouver Families Belong Together march, showing their support for immigrants and protesting recent Trump administration decisions that have separated immigrant children — many of whom arrived in the United States seeking asylum from Central American nations in crisis — from their parents and relatives.
“We are a large, diverse family,” said Ken Mach, of Camas, who came to the march with his wife, Chelsey, and their five young children. “And we want families to be together in this country.”
The June 30 march, which started in front of U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler’s Vancouver office and ended 1 mile away with a rally in Esther Short Park, was one of more than 600 marches across the country and one of 30 in Washington State.
Frank and Joanne Pinelli held signs asking “Is this America?” and stating, “I fear Trump … not immigrants!”
The Camas couple often join Catholic Charities volunteers to help greet refugees coming to the U.S. via the Portland International Airport, and have helped refugee families feel more comfortable during their first days in Oregon and Washington — bringing backpacks filled with snacks, toys and toiletries for the children and making sure the families’ new homes have all the basic necessities.
The Trump administration’s crackdown on immigrants and refugees, however, has affected the number of refugees coming into the area, the Pinellis said.
“The number of refugees coming in has dwindled to nothing,” Joanne said. “The last time they had arrivals was in early June. We went to PDX, I think it was (early June) to greet new arrivals. That was the last time we have gotten any notifications of arrivals. The numbers are down to nothing these days. It’s so sad.”
The couple said they felt it was important to turn out for the Vancouver march instead of joining the much larger rally in downtown Portland on Saturday.
“It’s important to show that this isn’t just something happening in big cities,” Frank said. “We wanted to represent our community.”
Joanne added that she and her husband, along with many other Camas-Washougal and Vancouver area activists, have been trying to talk to their U.S. representative, Congresswoman Herrera Beutler, for more than a year with no response.
“We go to her office, but she has never come out to talk to us,” Joanne said. “We are all her constituents. Most of us are grey haired retirees! The last time we went, there was a sign from her staff saying she wasn’t meeting in person because she feared for her safety.”
If they could ask the congresswoman a few questions, the Pinellis said they would want to know her position on the family separations.
“And we’d want to know why we can’t talk to her,” Joanne added.
As the march moved through Vancouver, several passersby in cars beeped and waved to show support. Near one intersection, march participants Scott Rainey, a longtime Washougal teacher, and his wife, Katrina, who said they came to the march to speak up for keeping immigrant families together, waved a large American flag and held signs stating, “Mis antepasados tambien eran inmigrantes: My ancestors were also immigrants” and “Jesus was a refugee.”
At another intersection, waiting for the light to change, 93-year-old Sylvia Manheim, of Skamania County, said she has been marching for justice for 90 years.
On Saturday, Manheim walked with her longtime friend, Larry Jacobson, from Manzanita, Oregon, wore a sunhat to keep the rays off her face and leaned on a white cane.
Jacobson carried a sign stating, “We will resist Trump’s hate.”
“My parents were refugees from Poland and eastern Europe,” Manheim said. “If they hadn’t come here, I wouldn’t have gone to college. My children wouldn’t have gone to college. … I’m here today because I love America. And I want to make America great again.”