Lights for Liberty vigil protest treatment of migrants at the border

 eu.indystar.com  07/13/2019 16:11:07   Casey Smith

In animmigration officeparking lotoff West 73rd Street, more than 200 people gathered Friday night to protest treatment of undocumented immigrants at the Mexicanborder.

Activists, religious leaders and families came together for a "Lights for Liberty" vigil. The crowdstood for nearly two hours, calling upon elected representatives to enact immigration reforms andenddetainment facilities at the border.

The event was one of nearly 800happening around the world Friday, including nine othersin Indiana. The vigils, hosted by a national group also called Lights for Liberty, were held at churches, town parks and community centers, according to the group's website.

In an office park down the road from the protest sat a nondescriptU.S. Immigration andCustoms Enforcement (ICE) facility. Chris Smallridge, one of the Indianapolis event's organizers, said that'swhy protesters were called to gather in this spot.

"We have many questions about this detention center in Indiana," Smallridgesaid. "People here and at the border need our help."

Dozens of signs dotted the crowd with messages such as: "Families belong together," "No detention camps for children;" and "Justice for asylum seekers." Supportive honks from passing cars prompted waves and cheers from the crowd.

A few passers-by also expressed opposition, including one manwho drove by, yelling out what was written on his makeshift cardboard sign:"Trump 2020! Trump 2020!"

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Three Indianapolis police officers were alsoat the vigil, ensuring that everyone remained on a grassy strip of public property at the street corner along Zionsville Road.

MalkahBird, with Jewish Voicefor Peace, was one of nearly a dozen speakers who addressed the crowd. Comparing conditions at the border to concentration camps during World War II, she said standing byand not taking actionis "increasingly harmful."

"After the Holocaust, Jews said never again," Bird said. "Never again is now. Never again means close the camps."

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The American treatment of immigrants is not what it used to be, addedNick Dunlap, secretary of the Indiana Stonewall Democrats. "Instead of being met with open arms," he said, "children, families are being met with hatred they're dying."

"We call on our elected leaders to close the camps," Dunlapcontinued. "If they don't like that ... we'll vote them out."

Vanessa Lpez Aguilera, an Indianapolis attorney who works with the American Civil Liberties Union, said at the event that families at risk of deportation should have a plan ready. That means making plans for children to be cared for, should their parents be detained or deported.

"There are ways tohelp and support ... those at risk of deportation," she said. "We are a voice for the voiceless."

Protesters also called upon Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and Marion County SheriffKerry Forestal to not cooperate with ICE.

Detainmentat the border has received increasing attention nationally from both the public and government leaders. Friday, Vice President Mike Pence toured a Border Patrol facility in Texas after reports that migrants detained are being held in dangerous conditions.

In the visit, Pence said every family hespoke with told him "they were being well cared for." After touring a different and more crowdedfacility later in the day, though,the vice president said it was"tough stuff."

I was not surprised by what I saw, he said. I knew wed see a system that was overwhelmed.

Pence's visit came a month aftertheinspector generalvisited five facilities in June, prompting the release of areportdescribing dangerously overcrowded conditions.

The end of the vigil was marked with candle-lightnings and thereading of the names of migrants who have died in U.S. custody or during interactions with law enforcement or border control agents. Shay Ramirez, a 19-year-old from Indianapolis, said "those names, and the need for the list to stop," is why she was there.

"Our voices are being heard and we're making it clear that what's happening at the border is not acceptable," Ramirez said. "But this is just the beginning. ... We're not going to stay silent anymore."

Call IndyStar reporter Casey Smithat 317-444-6176or email her at casmith@indystar.com. Follow her on Twitter @SmithCaseyA.

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