Lydia Walther-Rodriguez stood in front of Baltimore’s City Hall and looked out over a small army of resistance.
Holding signs that said “Stop the raids” and “Close the camps,” about 500 people were gathered before her at the same moment Friday evening that hundreds rallied in Towson, Columbia and Westminster and in cities across the country to oppose President Donald Trump’s treatment of immigrants and his planned large-scale operation by federal authorities to arrest those accused of violating immigration laws this weekend.
“We’re here to say, we are fighting back,” Walther-Rodriguez told the crowd, switching between English and Spanish as she spoke. “We are here asking for dignity and respect.”
Trump told reporters outside the White House on Friday that a “major operation” by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would begin Sunday.
“They’re going to take people out and they’re going to bring them back to their countries, or they’re going to take criminals out and put them in prison,” Trump said. “We’re focused on criminals as much as we can.”
A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman said in a statement Friday that she could not offer “specific details” about the operation but that ICE would prioritize “the arrest and removal of unlawfully present aliens who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security."
The spokeswoman objected to activists’ use of the word “raid” to describe the operation and said it would be a “targeted enforcement” effort to “uphold federal immigration law.”
In Baltimore, activist groups from Muslim, Jewish and Christian organizations condemned the Trump administration’s practice of separating immigrant children from their families near the Mexican border. The rally was part of a day of action called “Lights for Liberty: A vigil to End Human Concentration Camps” taking place across the country to protest inhumane conditions faced by migrants in U.S. custody.
Baltimore’s rally was organized by several groups, including the immigrant rights organization CASA, where Walther-Rodriguez is lead organizer. The protesters marched from City Hall to Baltimore ICE offices at Hopkins Plaza.
Meanwhile, in Columbia, more than 600 people gathered at the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center for a program at which both Howard County Councilman Opel Jones and the Rev. Gerry Brown referenced classic American texts such as the New Colossus to suggest that the nation’s roots are welcoming to immigrants.
In his speech, Jones said the changes in immigration under Trump do not pair well with American values. The Democrat referenced the “explicit” photo of the “lifeless bodies” published by the Associated Press.
“These images are not only inhumane but devastating to the moral character of our country,” he said.
In Westminster, Carroll County progressives gathered in Belle Grove Square for a vigil. More than 100 people assembled in the fading sun, around the central fountain, as some held signs reading "Listen to the children weep” or “Immigrants are welcome here.”
In Towson, more than 200 people gathered around Patriot Plaza as demonstrators arrived with prepainted signs.
Tiffany Nelms, director of Asylee Women’s Enterprises, said the organization came to raise awareness about the long, difficult asylum process and the fact that many asylum seekers are in Maryland.
Some of the people Nelms works with are potential targets of ICE raids — often, she said, people receive final deportation orders but are afraid to go home.
“There’s a lot of trauma around people who fled something traumatic, and now the constant fear of wondering when and if they’re going to be deported,” Nelms said.
With threats of impending ICE raids, “there is a palpable panic amongst our immigrant communities here in Baltimore,” said Sheila Ruth, an organizer of the Baltimore County event.
Carmen Christiana, a community outreach coordinator for County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., spoke at the event in support of immigrant residents of the county. “We will not let [people] stop us from being kind and caring to our neighbors, whoever they may be,” she said.
It was the second time in two months that immigrant rights activists have geared up for federal raids.
This weekend’s threatened operation follows Trump’s tweet in June that the United States will deport “millions” of undocumented immigrants, and would target people with final deportation orders in 10 major cities, including Baltimore, Chicago and Los Angeles.
The earlier operation was canceled after a phone call between Trump and Democratic U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, while lawmakers worked to pass a $4.6 billion border aid package.
In Baltimore, city leaders, including Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, Police Commissioner Michael Harrison and City Council President Brandon Scott have declared their support for the city’s immigrant population and stressed that city police are prohibited from aiding federal immigration officials in civil investigations.
“Immigrants who call Baltimore home should not live in fear of family separation and deportation, and I will continue to do all that is in my power so that all Baltimore residents, including immigrants, feel safe and welcome in our city," Young said in a statement Friday night.
“We will not, in our city, help ICE in any way,” Scott told the crowd in Baltimore on Friday.
If carried out, the ICE operation could be similar to ones conducted since 2003 that often produce hundreds of arrests.