Cassandra Ryan, 17, held a sign Saturday morning that read “Tearing families apart is un-American” and sported a T-shirt emblazoned with “Dump Trump” as she stood with her friend Kaiya Hall, also 17, along the sidewalk facing Washington Street in downtown Sonora.

Ryan, who recently graduated from Bret Harte High School in Angels Camp, said she had planned to hold the sign while standing on a street corner in Calaveras County before she heard about the event at Courthouse Square in Sonora, which was organized by a local activist group to raise awareness about the Trump administration’s policy to separate children from their parents caught illegally crossing the United States border.

“It’s just wrong to rip kids away from their parents,” Ryan said. “Illegal immigration has been going on for a long time now, but ripping families apart is fairly new.”

Ryan said she believed the practice violates the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that protects all people on U.S. soil from cruel and unusual punishment at the hands of the federal government.

Hall, who will be a senior this fall at Bret Harte High School, added that she believes events like the one on Saturday are important because the issue can be easy to ignore as the Mother Lode is so far removed from the border with Mexico, where much of the Trump administration’s efforts have targeted.

“People know it’s happening, but it’s easy to ignore because it’s not happening to them,” she said.

More than 50 people gathered at Courthouse Square for the event that was put together over the past week by Sonora Action Network.

Many held signs with messages like “Safety of all shall be the highest law,” “I don’t know how to explain that you should care about other people,” “Families belong together,” and “America has lost its soul.”

They formed a circle in the center of the park shortly after 10 a.m. and took turns sharing their thoughts on the zero-tolerance approach to enforcing immigration laws, which Trump administration officials have referred to as a deterrent.

Elizabeth Harper, of Sonora Action Network, spoke into a megaphone as she reminded people that separating the families who are being detained on a misdemeanor charge of crossing the border illegally is a policy as opposed to a law.

“If we start using children as political ploys, then we’re losing what our founding fathers stood for,” said Nan Fuller, a local activist who lives in Sonora.

Some said they felt like the treatment of undocumented immigrants is similar to what happened to Japanese-Americans who were put into internment camps during World War II, or the rise of fascism in Germany prior to that.

Ann Mazzaferro, of San Andreas, said she called Republican U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock’s office in Washington, D.C., to discuss the issue and was told by a staffer that the congressman supports enforcing laws until he sees evidence of a human rights violation, which drew some gasps from those in the circle.

Donna Marie, 21, and Katrina Rose, 19, both of Sonora, stood along Washington Street holding signs that they made at the last minute after hearing the event on Facebook the previous night.

They said they wanted to attend after seeing negative comments about the purpose of the event.

“We went to Walmart at 1 in the morning and got some posters and markers,” said Marie, whose sign noted how California was once part of Mexico. “They came here to build a better life for their families.”

Mercedes Tune, of Sonora, immigrated to the U.S. with her son 18 years ago from Yucatán, Mexico, after meeting her husband, Gary, who was living in Twain Harte at the time.

Tune, who has since become a U.S. citizen, said she believed there’s a prevalent stereotype that brown people and people who have an accent are in the country illegally, uneducated, or lazy, but the truth is much more complex.

“We need to ask ourselves as a country why are there so many people coming here,” she said. “Then, we need to look at policies of the U.S. that has exploited natural resources in so many countries around the world, and the billions of dollars being poured into war.”

Contact Alex MacLean at or (209) 588-4530.