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Rallies Protesting Immigrant Family Separations Taking Place Across US

(CNN) -- An organization pushing back against the Trump administration's policy of separating immigrant families is holding rallies Thursday in cities across the United States.

The rallies are being organized by Families Belong Together, or Familias Unidas No Divididas, in cities such as Washington, Los Angeles and Austin, Texas. At least 60 cities will have significant events Thursday, the group said.

"We oppose the cruel, inhumane and unjustified separation of children from their families along the US border and other points of entry," the organization says in promoting the rally.

The rallies have also been promoted by, the progressive advocacy group, as well as celebrities such as Lin-Manuel Miranda and Debra Messing.

Anna Tarkov, the national spokeswoman for Families Belong Together, said she expects thousands to participate.

"We're all volunteers doing this in our spare time, but the passion and dedication of everyone involved in this has just been amazing," she said.

The rallies come as the Trump administration has decided to refer for federal prosecution anyone who crosses into the United States illegally, a more aggressive stance than previous administrations have taken. The change means that adults coming across the border with children will be separated as the parents await their criminal proceedings.

The move has already led to a rise in the number of children separated from their parents at the border. Since the policy was announced in May, some 500 children have been separated from their parents, according to Miguel A. Nogueras, an assistant federal public defender for the Southern District of Texas in McAllen.

In one case, an undocumented immigrant from Honduras was breastfeeding her daughter when the government took her daughter away. When the mother resisted, she was put in handcuffs, according to Natalia Cornelio, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project.

US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the "zero-tolerance" policy last month.

"So, if you cross the border unlawfully, even a first offense, we're going to prosecute you," Sessions told a gathering of the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies. "If you're smuggling a child, we're going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law.

"If you don't want your child to be separated, then don't bring them across the border illegally," he said.

Shannon Heesacker McClain, the national coordinator for Families Belong Together, said that keeping families together should not even be a partisan issue.

"If you think that family values are important, at the top of that list is just the basic right of the family to be together," she said. "I really think that everybody should be able to get behind this message that these families belong together and they shouldn't be separated in this way."

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