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More than 400 Tucsonans protest separation of families at U.S.-Mexico border

As fury over the Trump administration's policy of separating immigrant children from their parents accelerates, more than 400 people protested Thursday in downtown Tucson, one of dozens of rallies held nationwide. 

Protesters took over the northwest and southwest corners of Congress Street and Granada Avenue, including in front of the federal courthouse.

In recent weeks, there's been growing outrage over the policy, which prosecutes parents for illegal entry under a "zero tolerance" program through Operation Streamline. While parents face federal prison terms of 30 to 180 days, their children are sent through a gantlet of federal agencies before landing with the Office of Refuge Resettlement, which has 100 shelters in 17 states, including one in Tucson. 

In 2017, ORR officials had about 40,810 migrant children referred to them from the Department of Homeland Security. However, the new policy is likely to drive that number much higher this year. From May 7 to May 21, about 658 children were taken from their parents and into custody by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. 

The program has been overwhelmed as thousands of children are held, so on Thursday, administration officials began building a "tent city" in Tornillo, Texas, to hold at least 450 children, NBC News reported. 

Defenders of the policy, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, argue that the plan is designed to deter people from entering the country illegally between the border  crossings at ports of entry, but activists and civil rights groups have said that the policy also takes in asylum seekers seeking protection within the process laid out in the law. 

On Tuesday, Tucson activists as part of a new group, Free the Children Coalition, denounced the separations just outside the meeting area for the Pima County Board of Supervisors. 

On Wednesday, other activists held a "play-date" at U.S. Rep. Martha McSally's office in Midtown Tucson, spending an hour there in order to push McSally into shifting her increasingly hard-line stance on immigration as she works to garner the Republican nomination for Senate and protect her right flank from GOP candidates Joe Arpaio and Kelli Ward. 

TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

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Paul Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

Hundreds lined Congress Street to protest the separation of immigrant children from their parents as part of a policy designed to deter people from attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

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