In photos: Nearly 3,000 declare "We Belong Here" at pro-immigrant demonstration

Organizers' estimates climb to nearly 3,000 Mid-Southerners who spoke out at a recent protest against President Donald Trump's anti-immigration orders.
Crowds of protestors numbering up to 3,000, in the organizers’ estimate, gathered Wednesday, February 1 at the recently-restored historic Clayborn Temple, where the Memphis sanitation worker strike marchers gathered almost 49 years earlier with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
A view of the crowd gathered outside of the National Civil Rights Museum. (J. Dylan Sandifer) 
Protestors marched from Clayborn Temple down Pontotoc Avenue, turning on Mulberry Street to culminate at the National Civil Rights Museum, the site of Dr. King’s assassination.
The demonstration was organized by Comunidades Unidas en Una Voz (CUUV), Tennessee Immigrant Refugee & Rights Coalition (TIRRC) and the Refugee Empowerment Program (REP).
The march was part of a statewide day of action in Tennessee planned to protest President Trumps’ January 27 executive order to ban immigration from seven Middle Eastern, Muslim-majority countries for at least the next 90 days and the January 25 executive order outlining Trump’s intentions to build a wall along the US border with Mexico, which also orders the detention and deportation of all undocumented immigrants.
Iris Mercado, an activist with CUUV, said she is “happily surprised and impressed with the turnout and support--both the physical presence and online support--including those who worked in the four days before the march to organize.”

High Ground News photojournalist Andrea Morales captures the emotions and messages shared at the "We Belong Here" march.

Although she was glad to see such a large crowd, Mercado emphasized that “this Intersectional work (for immigrants and refugees) has been happening before Trump. There were 2.7 million deportations in the Obama era. CUUV and TIRCC have been fighting against mass deportation and incarceration for a long time.”

Once all marchers had arrived at NCRM, Muslim demonstrators gathered below the balcony which marks the site where Dr. King’s body fell for evening prayers as the other demonstrators formed a protective circle and stood in respectful silence.

The multilingual speeches included representatives from Mid-South Immigration Advocates, Islamic Center of Memphis, REP, Muslims in Memphis, Temple Israel, the Memphis chapter of Black Lives Matter, Memphis Fight for $15, World Relief Memphis and CUUV.

The speeches began by paying homage to the continuing injustices felt by immigrants and refugees.

“We want to acknowledge our brothers and sisters who are still detained in for-profit detention centers,” said Veronica Virgen of Mid-South Immigration Advocates. “We want to remember those who passed away before reaching the US border. You are not forgotten.”
However, thoughts soon turned to the actions of president Trump. “On January 25th, the president declared war on 11 million undocumented people who call America home,” said Sally Joyner of Mid-South Immigration Advocates.
During a brief lull, a demonstrator yelled out, “God is with us.” Another man nearby responded, “Masha Allah (Allah has willed it.)”

Memphis Police Department presence at a corner of the "We Belong Here" march. (J. Dylan Sandifer)Several attendees who also attended the larger Women’s March in Memphis on January 21, which brought out an estimated 9,000 participants, commented on the marked difference in police presence between the two recent protests.
Two Blue C.R.U.S.H. trucks, a helicopter, twenty police cars, and a “skycop”-style stationary camera were among the MPD presence.
“Those directly affected understand the role the police and the criminal justice system at the local level play in mass incarceration and mass deportation, which target the poor and communities of color. It is those who have not experienced this themselves that express (support for police),” Mercado said.
In expectation of a large police presence, organizers recruited about thirty marshals and legal observers who surrounded the marchers to serve as observers and buffers between marchers and the police. Ultimately, there were no meaningful interactions between police and demonstrators.
Mercado also referenced figures obtained by councilman Martavius Jones February 2, which show that MPD is already close to going over budget due to police overtime.
“If Memphians are going to continue to respond en masse against each executive order as it rolls out,” Mercado said. “We need to restructure the process for asking for and granting permits and the police response. I look forward to having those discussion as we continue this work.”

Mercado recommended that Memphians who want to continue to advocate for the city's local immigrant population support the work of CasaLuz, Mid-South Immigration Advocates, TIRCC and Latino Memphis.

Read more articles by J. Dylan Sandifer.

J. Dylan Sandifer is a freelance writer living in Memphis since 2008. They have also contributed writing and research for MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, VICE News, and Choose901.