With undocumented immigrant raids reported to begin across the nation this weekend, protestors gathered Friday at the William H. Natcher Federal Building to oppose poor conditions for migrants at southern border detention centers.
The Lights for Liberty vigil, held in conjunction with a national campaign that spurred protests in hundreds of U.S. cities, drew nearly 100 people locally. Together they chanted and waved signs with slogans like “#ClosetheCamps” and “#NeverAgain”.
“A person is not illegal. Illegal is an act, not a person” said local attorney Carlos Bailey, one of several speakers at the protest, who also pushed back against characterizing asylum seekers as illegal invaders.
“When somebody comes to the border, and they’re basically coming from a war-torn country (and) they’re seeking asylum, that is not an illegal,” Bailey said.
According to The Associated Press, the number of children and other migrants entering the U.S. from Mexico has surged above 100,000 monthly since March, overwhelming federal agencies’ ability to detain them in sanitary conditions or move them quickly to better housing.
The vigils come amid reports of standing-room-only cells, infants forced to go without diapers and outbreaks of diseases in detention facilities, USA Today reported.
Joyce Adkins, a resident of Smiths Grove attending the protest, noted the Statue of Liberty printed on her shirt and lamented the country moving away from the values it embodies.
“I’m here because I believe that people deserve to live in freedom and without violence and without fear,” she said. “I was raised in Mexico and nobody there was worried about whether I spoke Spanish or not … nobody there treated me like I was an alien.”
Adkins described the conditions in detention facilities on the country’s southern border as “abhorrent.”
“I am ashamed that my country has put children and adults in what amounts to … concentration camps,” she said.
At least six children have died in federal custody since December, according to USA Today.
Anna Burt, a college student from Bowling Green, helped organize the protest with fellow organizer Francisco Serrano. After hearing so many reports about the crisis the border, she felt like she needed to get off the sidelines, she said.
“I needed to figure out something to do, to do my part to end this,” Burt said.
This week, lawmakers in Washington heard tearful testimony from Yazmin Juarez, the mother of a 19-month-old girl named Mariee, who died from an infection she developed during detention.
That story hit home for Kenan Mujkanovic, the son of a Bosnian refugee, who spoke at the event.
“This is not just one case,” he said. “This is happening every single day. We have children being detained in (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) facilities that are in cages. It’s sad that we treat our house pets, our dogs, better than we treat our children … That’s a wake-up call.”
Mujkanovic pleaded with protestors to take action, call their legislators and “demand change.”
“This isn’t a question of immigration. This is a question of humanity. Are we human?”