From Texas to California, Older Women Take to Streets to Protest U.S. Immigration Policies

Two women close their eyes during a prayer for separated families. The women were among 2,500 who rallied at the Otay Mesa detention facility in Southern California on June 23. (John Sepulvado/KQED)

For the first time in her life, Judith Taylor made an appearance at a political rally in East County San Diego on Saturday.

Well, not just an appearance. The 85-year-old led a protest against the Trump administration’s immigration policies from atop her mobility scooter.

“I’ve never done anything like this in my life,” Taylor said to a group of 75 protesters — mostly white senior citizens. “I’m as new to this as any of you. All that I thought is that we would meet at Main and Magnolia [streets], we’d walk around the courthouse, then we’d walk.”

At 85, Judith Taylor organized and led her first protest against separated families. Taylor planned for about a dozen people to show up. Ultimately she led a march of 300 from her mobility scooter.
At 85, Judith Taylor organized and led her first protest against separated families. Taylor planned for about a dozen people to show up. Ultimately, she led a march of 300 from her mobility scooter. (Emily Cureton/KQED)

The octogenarian took to the internet, then to her scooter, and led more than 300 people through the streets of El Cajon as part of the "Families Belong Together" marches this past weekend.

“I just couldn’t stand it anymore,” Taylor explained as the reason for organizing the march. “The idea of taking parents from their children is grating and disturbing. It’s my last straw.”

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From Tornillo, Texas, to the San Ysidro Port of Entry in California, many new marchers have described the Trump administration’s family separation policy — which resulted in some children being placed in tents in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert — as the “last straw.”

“The idea this is happening to children, it was too much for me to not finally speak out,” said first-time marcher Patricia Baldwin of Lake Elsinore, on June 23 in San Ysidro.

“I felt this was a particularly important march because it’s so visceral,” said Jill Rappaport on June 30 in San Diego. “Children separated from their moms and dads — everyone has such a gut-wrenching reaction.”

“I’m Stage 4 ovarian cancer,” said Monica Ramirez at an anti-Trump march in Tornillo on June 17. “These are my last few days. And this is what I’m doing before I’m taken.”

Social Media Uniting Women Against Immigration Policy

Since being sworn into office, President Trump has seen fierce opposition from Democratic and progressive-leaning women. Leading the so-called resistance, it is these women who organized and turned out protesters in large numbers across the country. They also have flocked to the Indivisible movement, a progressive grass-roots movement opposed to Trump policies.

“I did not care about politics until Trump was elected,” said San Diego Indivisible organizer Wendy Batterson. “I work in a grocery store and wasn’t worried about politics. I wasn’t as aware as I should have been.”

Batterson has been a key organizer in San Diego. Along with friend and fellow Indivisible organizer Gretchen Gordon, the women were two of the first people to organize protests against Trump’s zero tolerance immigration policy. After learning that the policy was leading to a backup of single mothers waiting to have their asylum cases heard, Batterson and Gordon went to the U.S. Port of Entry to hear the stories and journal the conditions of the women waiting to ask for the U.S. to hear their asylum cases.

“What I found was a medical crisis,” said Gordon, who is also a pediatric nurse. “Pregnant women, women with children, girls and teenagers with children. Dehydrated, malnourished, skin rashes, horrible coughs, and just dirt -- they’re dirty from traveling however many miles to get here. No money, and no help.”

“I think those pictures of those kids did a lot to get people energized,” Batterson added. “Then all of a sudden they could see children, as opposed to just talking about whatever dumb thing Trump was doing. People could put a face to it.”

Since those first dispatches to social media in May, Batterson said she has seen new protesters over the family separation policy.

“I think a lot of people who saw us at the first Women's March, they didn’t get the magnitude of what was happening,” Batterson said. “Some people thought it was kind of laughable. Other people said, ‘Oh, that’s just rhetoric, Trump couldn’t mean it.’ But now, people are paying attention. They see kids in cages. They see parents crying, kids crying. Thank God, family separation isn’t a line they want to cross.”

Anecdotally, it appears Batterson is noticing an emerging trend: Several women told KQED they are concerned about the president’s behavior and policies, but have not been vocal in their opposition because they don’t want to alienate more conservative friends and family members. But that changed for many women when they started seeing stories on social media about separated children.

“There is no way I could wear a pink pussy hat around my neighborhood,” said Patricia Baldwin. “I live in an area that is predominately white, Republican and conservative. But I can’t just stand by now, with families being torn apart.”

Other protesters told KQED that the family separation policy is also disturbing to their conservative friends and family members.

“I have friends in Texas who are very conservative,” Jill Rappaport said. “But they are very loving, caring people. We talk about Trump, and the husband said to me, ‘I feel like from talking to you I’ve now moved from right to center, politically.’ ”

A big reason, Rappaport said, was the president’s immigration policy of separating children.

“This was too much for them also,” she added.

Polling Shows Women Are Leading Opposition to Trump’s Immigration Policies

New polling from Quinnipiac shows that, across the country, women are deeply opposed to Trump’s policy of family separation.

“Men are more supportive of the president in general,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of polling at Quinnipiac. “While there is 2-1 opposition against family separation, women are carrying the ball politically. It’s deeply unpopular with women across party lines.”

The Quinnipiac poll showed that 58 percent of Americans oppose the family separation policy. When describing the policy, most Americans used the words “sad, terrible, bad and wrong” when discussing the policy.

“These are throw your hands up in the air kind of words,” Malloy explained. “And it’s the reason immigration is the number one issue on the minds of Americans. This family separation policy is clearly the talk of the dinner table and the water cooler.”

The Quinnipiac poll also showed women overwhelmingly plan to vote for Democratic candidates in the upcoming midterms, while only a third of women planned to vote for Republicans. This reverses several weeks of gains for the GOP, buoyed by a strong economy and Trump’s summit with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un.

While criticism of Trump persisted during that time, his numbers in Quinnipiac and other polls improved. Now, after the family separation policy, Americans have again turned sour on Trump’s leadership.

“Here’s the difference: Most political issues are abstract to people,” explained Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College. “Family separation is different. Every family can remember losing sight of that child at a mall, and remember how terrified they were.”

Pitney warned Republicans that unlike other unpopular events, statements and policies from Trump and his administration, it’s likely the family separation policy will stay at the top of many voters’ minds.

“It’s going to linger because the administration is incompetent in reuniting families,” Pitney said. “This is going to be damaging to Trump and the GOP."

Trump maintains his hard-line policy will motivate his base, and help Republicans win what is expected to be a tough midterm cycle. And while more women might be motivated to join protests, there has been no real movement in polling showing Trump slipping even further with women voters.

A woman jumps to the front of the line while protesting family separation. She was among 2,500 who rallied in San Ysidro on June 23.
A woman jumps to the front of the line while protesting family separation. She was among 2,500 who rallied in San Ysidro on June 23. (John Sepulvado/KQED)

“Women have disapproved of President Trump by a margin o 2-1 throughout his presidency,” Malloy said. “Trump is deeply unpopular with female American voters.”

Yet Batterson and other ground-level organizers say the new engagement of women in protests will help keep Trump’s opponents energized until Election Day, while helping peel off scores of supporters at a time.

“We saw a lot of people show up who don’t show up to protests, a lot of people saying, ‘I voted for Trump but I didn’t vote for this’ ” Batterson said. “We’re going to get out the vote, I’m telling you now.”

Emily Cureton and KQED's Polly Stryker contributed to this report.