With signs in their hands and songs in their hearts, New York state grandmothers walked the streets of Manhattan on Tuesday to demand the Trump Administration immediately reunite all immigrant families that have been separated.

It was the start of a six-day, six-city caravan tour of “rallies, vigils, and potluck dinners” en route to McAllen, Texas — the epicenter of the child separation crisis — where they will participate in “24 hours of action” beginning on August 6.

Soon after participants gathered and exchanged pleasantries in New York’s Union Square, a wave of familiarity swept through the throng of activists and reporters. 

A half dozen women huddled around a guitarist. “Shut Down I.C.E. (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement),” read one of her buttons. The group passed around lyric sheets, and they sang.

“Government took immigrants’ children away…
‘Get them back right now!’ our grannies say…
Grannies are rising for jus-tice…
Oh, sisters you’re strong!”

For some caravan members, their advocacy was reminiscent of 1960s-era protests, during which some of the same women marched more than a half century ago.

“I have been able to see what activism can do,” said Ann Schaetzel, who also joined in the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War protests growing up.

“I’m a little distressed that it’s so difficult to get movements going now … people sort of are siloed off, and I think the value of this particular movement is that it encompasses just the desire for human decency,” Schaetzel said.

But for the elder New York activist herself, age is no deterrent to making a point. Her hope is it will provoke more people to take action — even in the dead of heat — with temperatures expected to hit 37 degrees celsius at their final destination.

“The power of this is it can show that even feeble old people do it, so why not you?” Schaetzel said.

Marty Rajandran, a member of the New York Metro Ra
Marty Rajandran, a member of the New York Metro Raging Grannies and Their Daughters, joined a group of fellow activist grandmothers, to show support for their six-day journey to the U.S.-Mexico border. (R. Taylor/VOA)

‘A worse hell’

A month has passed since a U.S. District Judge ordered more than 2,000 undocumented children be reunited with their families, a result of the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy. 

The U.S. Justice Department says more than 1,400 children five years and older had been reunited so far. Another 378 were released in what it calls "appropriate circumstances," meaning they were turned over to sponsors who can properly care for them.

But after last week’s deadline, hundreds of children remain separated, with the government maintaining that some parents were “not eligible or available for reunification.”

The confusion, as it wore on, elicited a visceral response from member grannies.

“You come to the border of America thinking, ‘I have reached Heaven,’ and it turns into a worse hell,” said Rachna Daryanani, a Queens, New York resident and grandmother of three, who herself immigrated to the United States from India in 1984.

“No hell is as bad as not knowing where your children are,” she said.

For Daryanani, who insists that everyone she meets call her “grandma,” a feeling of outrage drove her to action. But it was a sense of unity among her fellow grandmothers that inspired her.

“One person alone, what can you do?” Daryanani asked.

“Now, we’re not one person alone,” she answered. “We’ve become the family we needed to be, to be able to do something for the whole family.”