About 120 people held a march and rally in downtown Santa Rosa Thursday afternoon, protesting federal immigration policies they say are separating thousands of children from parents seeking asylum in the United States.

Protesters marched from Old Courthouse Square to the John F. Shea Federal Building and back, calling on Congress to block the U.S. Attorney General’s decision to prosecute parents who cross the border illegally, including many seeking asylum.

Such criminal prosecutions result in children being taken from their parents. The children are often sent to foster homes or held in detention camps, the advocates said.

“The separation of kids from parents is really grotesque — that’s got to be a human rights violation,” said Richard Coshnear, a local immigration attorney who heads Comité VIDA, a volunteer immigrant rights organization.

Family separations increased sharply this spring after the Justice Department began implementing a “zero tolerance” policy for people entering the country illegally. Under the directive, adopted in April, families crossing the border are routinely referred for criminal prosecution. Previously, families were often sent to civil deportation proceedings, which allow children to remain with their parents.

During the criminal proceedings, the children are usually released to other family members or foster care.

The march and rally were organized by Comité VIDA the Graton Day Labor Center.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @renofish.