CARLSBAD — Protesters who showed up for the Families Belong Together march and rally at Cannon Park in Carlsbad on June 30 were surprised to see city signs taped to streetlights notifying them the event was unpermitted.
The signage was also somewhat of a surprise to the organizers, Robin Mastro and Cindy Millican. A few minutes before the advertised start time, as more and more people flowed into the park, many of them holding handmade signs protesting the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy regarding separating families seeking asylum, Mastro stood outside a perimeter fence and expressed her frustration, fear and confusion.
Since the event was too late in the process of obtaining a special event permit, and the city had no time to approve one and gather the necessary resources, organizers and attendees were notified they could be in violation of the law.
Mastro received a letter from the City Attorney’s Office notifying her she could be subject to a misdemeanor and financial liability. It also said the city “will try and ensure the event is conducted peacefully and respectfully.”
Kristina Ray, communications manager for the city of Carlsbad, said the city is required, per its own code, to notify organizers and people attending an unpermitted event. She said it is because if violence or other acts break out, notice must have been given informing the event does not have a permit.
“I think the confusion came about, people saw that and, it was very legal language, and thought that we were shutting down the protest or we weren’t allowing the protest,” Ray said. “That was never the case. All along throughout the week we ensured the organizers that we would do everything we could to work with them and have traffic control and police officers so they could have a peaceful event without any incident.”
Mastro, though, was visibly shaken and explained she’d taken on the task of heading up the rally but didn’t have a lot of experience organizing such events.
“I felt like I had to do something,” she said. “There was another person involved who was supposed to be getting the permit, but he stepped down on Tuesday and when I went to the city to have my name put on the permit, I discovered that there wasn’t one.”
Mastro went on to say that she was told that permits must be applied for 90 days in advance.
“By that time there were already close to 500 people signed up,” she explained. “I didn’t know what to do.”
Feeling intimidated and confused, Mastro contacted MoveOn.org for advice, who referred her to the American Civil Liberties Union.
According to Carlsbad Police Capt. Pete Pascual, police and organizers met and discussed options to where the hundreds of protesters could assemble safely without violating the law.
“In the future, we will want to make sure that we support the public’s right to gather and to free speech and this is an unpermitted event,” Ray said. “That was the part we didn’t explicitly say and that was our lesson learned. We just want to make sure it’s safe and lawful.”
As for the number of people, Ray said no permit is needed for a spontaneous gathering, defined less than 48 hours before the event, with 50 or fewer people. The June 30 event didn’t meet that requirement or the planned provision because it was outside the 90-day noticing limit.
At the rally, hundreds gathered, perhaps close to 1,000, and chanted, listened to speakers and waved signs to motorists passing by in railing against Trump’s policy of separating illegal immigrant and arresting asylum seekers along the U.S.’ southern border.
Reports indicate at least 2,000 children have been separated from their families or parents and have faced federal court proceedings without a parent or guardian present.
Oceanside resident Mary Steitz, a retired licensed psychologist who specialized in child psychology, specifically children affected by trauma, said she is chilled by the federal government’s actions.
She said that children who are separated from their parents will have a difficult time forming lasting relationships as adults.
“I can’t believe that our government is purposely doing this to kids,” Steitz said. “This is affecting their entire being. And what bothers me, too, is that we’re not even talking about the trauma they’re trying to escape from. They’ve already been traumatized and now we’re traumatizing them again.”
She also said that she worries that the detention centers where the children are held are not properly staffed, that the people working in the centers most likely are not trained in how to deal with this type of psychological abuse.
Meanwhile, Magaly Magean of Rancho Bernardo said she is concerned for her status as a permanent resident.
She came to the U.S. illegally from Mexico with her mother and sister in the 1980s, however was granted amnesty through President Ronald Regan’s program. Magean said she’s also had family members deported, and their only crime was being undocumented.
Now, she is married with four children, who, including her husband, are citizens and were present at the rally.
“That at any moment when I apply for citizenship that he (Trump) could say forget it,” Magean said. “It’s all scary because it’s all possible now, it feels like. This is the only country we know … me included.”
She also railed against locking up children in “cages” and deporting those immigrants seeking asylum. She said if those illegal immigrants in the country are already contributing to society, the economy and are law-abiding, then they should be given a chance to continue residing here with a path to citizenship.
“I can’t stand the thought of babies being behind bars,” she said. “I understand immigration policy and protecting borders, but separating families is not the way. I can’t stand the thought of my tax dollars being spent on these atrocities.”