Saturday, June 30, 2018 | 6:10 p.m.
The sun's rays danced off foil blankets worn by a couple of demonstrators outside a downtown Las Vegas courthouse Saturday morning. They, along with hundreds more, showed up to protest federal immigration policies that have roiled the country.
The thermic covers — recently seen in images broadcast from immigration detention centers — have become symbolic with separations of children who’d been caught crossing the U.S.-Mexico border with their parents.
President Donald Trump has backed away from family separations amid bipartisan and international uproar. His "zero tolerance policy" led officials to take more than 2,000 children from their parents as they tried to enter the country illegally, most of them fleeing violence, persecution or economic collapse in their home countries.
Thousands of sign-toting and vocal protesters hit the streets across the nation as part of the “Families Belong Together” day of action, demanding the government quickly reunite the families that were already divided. And it wasn’t different in Las Vegas.
“I cannot believe what has happened in America,” said Kelly Ruddis, who donned a “SOS America is In Distress” sign that covered most of her body. She said she fears the United States could spiral into pre-WWII Germany.
"I’m afraid for our country. I’m afraid for our people. But I think the tipping point was when Trump took those children from their parents — and these are people seeking asylum,” Ruddis said. “I think that was why we’re all here and it has to stop.”
Between 500 to 600 attendees arrived about 10 a.m. to the Lloyd D. George Courthouse, where officers blocked off a stretch of Clark Avenue for the two-hour affair, according to Metro Police Lt. Ailee Burnett. One person was arrested for not heeding multiple warnings to get off the street, she said Saturday afternoon. “Everyone else was peaceful.”
Before speakers took to a podium in the middle of the street, the crowd warmed up with battle chants: “What do we want? Keep families together! When do we want it? Now!” or “Up, up with education! Down, down with deportation!”
Protesters found clever ways to demonstrate their disdain for Trump. One had a sign with a handcuffed baby doll, an emoji and a toy gun attached. “CIVIL” it read: “Call People Names,” “Incarcerate Babies,” “Violate Ethics Laws,” “Incite Violence” and “Lie!”
Some of the advocates and speakers were seasoned. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., likened the hot weather to the politics, imploring change through the ballot. A couple of migrants told their emotive tales of when they’d dealt with immigration authorities.
During a speaker intermission, a mariachi group strummed iconic songs, such as “Cielito Lindo.”
But at 55, Ruddis has only recently become politically active. It started with social media, she said. And last week, when Trump visited Las Vegas, for the first time she’d overcome her fear to hit the streets. “And what has inspired me is that I see high school kids … standing up and wanting to make a difference and knowing that they can, because they’re going to be our next set of voters coming in.”
Things only got contentious when a trio of Trump supporters carrying an American flag showed up. They wore pro-Trump and “Proud Boys” apparel.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the “Proud Boys,” established in 2016, is a far-right fraternity of “Western chauvinists” that disavows political correctness and “white guilt.”
But on Saturday, they were mostly silent as they marched back and forth on the fringes of the crowd. A few protesters heckled and tailed them, telling them: “Nazis are losers," "you don't belong here” and "shame.”
The confrontations didn’t escalate.
Wearing shades, Renne Mondragon’s 1-year-old girl relaxed on her stroller. “Can’t take me from my mama,” a sign in front of her read.
Mondragon, whose family operates a clinic for underprivileged and undocumented patients, said the protest drew her not only because she could relate to the idea of what it would mean to be separated from her daughter, but also because her parents were migrants themselves. “Everybody deserves a chance,” the 24-year-old said.