Immigrants and allies rallied in more than a dozen US cities on Thursday to ask President Obama to use his executive authority broadly to stop deportations of undocumented workers and their families.

Hundreds gathered outside the headquarters of the Department of Homeland Security in Washington, DC, and marched across the National Mall to mark what they called the National Day to Fight for Families. As some 150 protesters prepared to be arrested in front of the White House, they laid red carnations over photos of loved ones who’d been deported.

Ten-year-old Amy hasn’t seen her father since he was sent back to Guatemala three years ago. She’s a US citizen, but neither her mother Sabina nor any of her other adult relatives in the US are authorized. It makes her feel sad, Amy told me, and lonely.

“We want the president to recognize that we’re here,” Sabina said.

Missael Garcia, 24, has been living in the United States since he was 12. His two younger brothers and a sister are protected from deportation by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which President Obama announced in 2012. DACA allows some immigrants who were brought to the US as children to stay in the country temporarily and work, but Garcia isn’t one of the lucky ones who qualifies. He said he came to the rally to fight for himself and his parents, and for all of the 11 million people who are estimated to be living in the US without papers.

‘”The president has sent the message that he’s taking this issue into his own hands,” Garcia said. “We support him and we pressure him because we’re trying to get him to motivate himself to act immediately, and expand the DACA program for our parents.”

Obama is expected to announce changes to immigration enforcement policy sometime after Labor Day. There’s plenty of speculation about what he’ll do—the idea that’s gotten most of the attention is expanding DACA to include new categories of people, like parents of US citizens—and, within the immigrant-rights community, anxiety about whether the impact of his actions will be as big as the hype.

The Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM), the coalition of organizations that led Thursday’s events, is calling on the president to use his executive powers broadly to keep families together, and to offer stronger protections to children crossing the US-Mexico border after fleeing violence in Central America. FIRM staff said the group arrest at the White House was the largest act of civil disobedience ever undertaken by immigration rights advocates.

Garcia said he’s been advocating for immigration reform throughout Obama’s time in office. (He’s on the board of Casa de Maryland, one of the groups participating in the Fight for Families.) He credits the activism of young immigrants known as Dreamers for giving the immigrant rights movement political clout. “They came out of the shadows saying, ‘I’m undocumented and unafraid,’ so I think that pushed the rest and motivated the rest of the community to step up and let their voice be heard.” He continued, “fighting for this cause has a risk, but living in the fear of being deported isn’t really going to help you.”

“There’s many other people that do illegal things and they don’t need to be punished all their lives,” said a man in a cowboy hat and an American flag shirt who identified himself only as Stephen. He stood at the edge of the crowd, holding a sign that read, “Immigration reform is obstructed by racism in America.”

“It’s a mix of hate for us,” he said about opposition to immigration reform. “I know what it is to be Latino in the US.”