WASHINGTON - Thousands gathered in front of the White House on Saturday to protest the Trump administration's immigration policies, which have separated children from parents at the US-Mexico border and sparked plans for military-run detention camps.

Joined by protesters nationwide, people crowding downtown Washington waved signs and chanted "shame" as religious leaders and activists urged the administration to be more welcoming of foreigners and to reunite families.

"It goes against everything we stand for as a country," protester Paula Flores-Marques, 27, said of President Donald Trump's policies. Trump was out of town.

Trump says illegal immigration fosters crime and he implemented a "zero tolerance" policy in May to prosecute all immigrants apprehended for entering illegally. That led to the separation of more than 2,000 children from their parents, which sparked an outcry this month, even from some allies of the Republican president.

In a rare retreat on an issue that fires up his conservative base, Trump on June 20 ordered officials to detain families together.

Protesters also gathered in New York, Los Angeles and scores of other US cities. In Chicago, thousands gathered to march toward the local offices of federal immigration authorities.

Organizers estimated 30,000 people had gathered in central Washington. The peaceful protest appeared to be the largest pro-immigration demonstration in the US capital since at least 2010, when activists rallied to pressure then-President Barack Obama and Congress to overhaul the US immigration system.

"We are here because children being held in detention don't have a voice," said Helen LaCroix, 40, a mother of two from Washington.

A federal judge has ordered families be reunited and the administration asked the military to house immigrant families, leading the Pentagon to mull the construction of soft-sided camp facilities.

Since taking office in 2017, Trump has overseen an increase in arrests of people suspected of being in the country illegally. His administration is also approving fewer family visas.

Immigration has been on the rise in America and across much of the developed world for decades, roiling politics in recent years across Germany, Britain and the United States.

Trump, who on Saturday was at a golf club he owns in Bedminster, New Jersey, criticized the handful of Democrats who have urged for an elimination of the US agency that enforces immigration law, which is known as ICE.

"I have watched ICE liberate towns from the grasp of [criminal gangs]," Trump said on Twitter.

Immigrants made up about one in 20 US residents in 1970. By 2016, their share rose to about one in seven, according the US Census Bureau.

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