Despite bitter weather, snow and biting winds, about two dozen people met on the west steps of Colorado Springs City Hall at noon Monday to protest President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
That it was a federal holiday set aside to honor American presidents and the nation’s democratic tradition was powerful — and for some, ironic — context.
“We’re celebrating 44 out of 45 of our presidents today,” said longtime Springs resident Nancy Stilwagen, who carried a sign bearing an image of Trump’s face covered by a big, red “X.” “I think we should be coming out and making a show, that we don’t like what he’s doing — to let other people know, to let our elected representatives know, that we’re against it.”
Calls and grassroots plans for protests began late last week, after Congress passed a federal budget deal that avoided a second government shutdown but failed to provide money for the president’s promised border wall. Trump then announced he would invoke executive power to reappropriate billions in “emergency” funds for the construction, a move that’s expected to face multiple legal challenges.
“We’re gathering here today to bring attention to the fact that this is a fake national emergency that Trump has declared,” said Siena Mann of the Colorado Immigrants Rights Coalition, a co-organizer of the rally.
“And also to bring attention to the fact that the crisis that we see here is actually a crisis in our communities, of increased funding going towards immigration enforcement that’s terrorizing the families in our communities.”
Frank Delalla said his greatest concern is that Trump’s decision to declare an emergency to achieve what he was effectively denied by Congress sets a dangerous precedent that transcends partisan politics.
“The Constitution is the law of the land. It covers everybody from the president to the very last person in the country … and it says Congress is the only one who can appropriate money from the treasury,” said Delalla, a retired Springs engineer and defense contractor.
“I am just really concerned with the precedent that is set, with somebody saying, ‘Well, I don’t like the answer that came from Congress, so I’m going to declare a national emergency and then we’ll go from there.’ A gentleman asked me, ‘If a Democrat did that, would you have the same opinion?’ I said, hell yes.”
The gathering also was held in support of documented and undocumented immigrants and their “overlooked” contributions to communities, said Nayda Benitez, of the Colorado Immigrants Rights Coalition and the Springs Dream Team, a group of young undocumented immigrants and DACA recipients.
“My family is a mixed-status family. My dad is undocumented, and he owns a landscaping and snow removal company, and they’ve been out since 2 a.m. this morning cleaning out, especially in the northern Colorado Springs area, Black Forest and Monument,” Benitez said.
“A lot of undocumented immigrants do a lot of crucial work that is needed, and not just cleaning our streets to make sure that people can go to work.”
Despite heated response to news of the rally on social media, the chilly hourlong event’s only counterprotesters were Dave and Amanda Brown of Colorado Springs, who stood to one side of the protesters carrying a U.S. flag on a pole. The Browns said they wholeheartedly support legal immigration and decided to attend the rally to show their support, not necessarily for President Trump but for his administration’s commitment to increased border security and curtailing illegal immigration.
Also because it was Presidents Day.
“You hear about things at the last minute. I’m working; I can’t take time off. But I had today off,” Dave Brown said.
“We think it’s really important to be out here to show that there is support for building the wall. No, the wall’s not the single answer that’s going to take care of everything, but it is a key part of all the things that need to be done. And it is worth coming out and supporting your view, no matter what that view would be.”