Lights for Liberty: Rhode Island joins the world in condemning United States detention camps

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Hundreds of Rhode Islanders come together to call for an end to migrant concentration camps

Around 500 people gathered on the south lawn of the Rhode Island State House to hold an illuminated vigil for all those held in United States detention camps and to “bring light to the darkness” of the abusive policies and human rights violations of the Trump Administration. Similar protests were held in nearly 800 locations across the world.

The Reverend Dr Donnie Anderson began a moment of “total and complete silence” during which she asked the crowd to do two thing. “Whether you pray or whether you think on, or whatever your practice is, let us focus or thoughts and intentions on those people who are suffering tonight in cages. Those people who are suffering in the triangle because their lives are so destroyed by other people, and then, let’s ask ourselves the question: What are we going to do? … What will we do in response?”

The local vigil was organized by David Veliz, Rodrigo Pimentel and Bridget Eileen and sponsored by Progreso Latino, the Working Families Party, and the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, with support from The Womxn Project, Rhode Island NOW, the Rhode Island Democratic Party Women’s Caucus, and Indivisible RI.

Preceding the moment of silence there was a slate of speakers, beginning with some words from organizer David Veliz, who said, “We cannot stand idle or silent as human rights violations are perpetuated against immigrants at the border and detention facilities.”

“The trauma that my family experienced is something that no family should ever have to go through,” said Lilian Calderon. Calderon was an undocumented immigrant brought to the United States at the age of three. In 2018, Calderon was jailed by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) as she was working through the process of adjusting her immigration status. She languished in prison for almost a month as her husband and two children are United States citizens were left alone. “I can personally attest to how physically and mentally damaging detention centers are… As an adult, many things were hard to comprehend, so the fact that many children are going through the same thing I went through is appalling…”

“All Rhode Island community members that are taken are taken away from Rhode Island, because Rhode Island does not have a detention center that can hold Rhode Island residents,” said Arely Diaz, organizer with AMOR (Alliance to Mobilize Our Resistance). “That means that families and loved ones are forced to go visit them in places in Massachusetts … or New Hampshire, which is even further away. This creates an extreme burden for people…

“This is something that has been happening for years,” continued Diaz. “It’s not new. This didn’t start in 2016. It definitely has gotten much worse, much more present and in our faces,” but, “and we can go all the way back, to give you all a mini history lesson, to the 90s, when Mr Bill Clinton signed immigration reform that allowed local law enforcement to serve as deputized immigration agents…”

“I am a first generation Cambodian-American resident and I am here today to shed light on the plights and struggles that face my community,” said Charles Chhor from PrYSM (Providence Youth Student Movement). “Deportation isn’t anything new for PrYSM and the larger Southeast Asian community … We continue to face systematic oppression that keeps our communities disenfranchised … PrYSM is continuing our efforts to organize Southeast Asian residents to combat the Administration’s attempts to deport our community…

“Lastly I want to say: Breathe Fire, and Fuck ICE!”

“Don’t let the lies and distortions about immigrants prevent you from seeing the dehumanizing treatment of the country towards immigrants,” said Aniece Germain, one of the co-founders of Hope and Change for Haiti. “This is not the United States of America. The United States has always been known as the country of liberty and freedom. That’s the way we learn about the United States in developing countries…”

“My name is Rodrigo Pimentel and I am undocumented and unafraid… This very evening, over 42,000 immigrants are in ICE custody. 11,000 children are in the custody of Health and Human Services. Another 2000 chidren are in the custody of Border Patrol. Tens of thousands of people in custody, behind barbed wire walls and fencing, and for what?

“For the supposed crime of trying to survive.”

“I’m a survivor,” said Javier Juarez, Dreamer, DACA recipient and Brown University graduate. “I am here to remind you that what we do today will mark a new era of resistance, an era when the people came together to tear down the walls of hatred and bigotry for innocent people who are seeking asylum to survive.”

“13,000 kids, most of them too young to understand, are being held against their will in what our politicians call detention centers” said Daniella Magana, a Central Falls High School student and activist. “This situation reminds me of earlier injustices that I have learned about in my history classes. There are instances throughout human history that show a lack of humanity, that show the worst of what humans are capable of. Keeping childen in cages is one of these moments…”

“We’ve developed family preparedness materials and are now able to provide representation for removal defense cases, and Know-Your-Rights resources for Rhode Islanders including those detained at Wyatt,” said Hannah Ortiz, from the Rhode Island Immigrant Coalition.

“Last week, alongside 17 friends, many of them are here today, I was arrested for the first time in my life,” said former State Representative Aaron Regunberg, who was arrested outside the Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls, Rhode Island, two weeks ago protesting ICE detention policies. “I am making a commitment tonight, that it will not be the last time!

“And I am asking everyone here, who is in a similar position to myself, who can safely take the risk, who has privilege within our racist criminal justice system and other systems – I’m asking you to consider making a similar commitment.”

“I’ve worked in the child advocacy field for many years with the primary focus on childen who have been traumatized, mostly in foster care” said Darlene Allen. “I see how trauma impacts children every single day. For many, the healing process is difficult. For some, it tales years. And for some, the impact of trauma lasts a lifetime…”

“The wellbeing and safety of children, ensuring family reunification, must be a priority,” said Pastor Santiago Rodriguez of the Gloria Dei Church. “Therefore our faith communities are heart broken by reports of children being held alone in filthy and inhuman conditions.”

“The Great America of Donald Trump is a White America,” said the Reverend Dr Donnie Anderson. “Understand that. If you’re deceiving yourself, if you know people that are deceiving themselves, this is the truth: America being Great, for [Trump], is America being White.

“It’s important, for those of us who are white, to be here, as Aaron said earlier, and to be part of this,” continued Anderson. “I want to share something with you tonight. I’ve committed to this before but I’m going to recommit tonight to Aaron’s challenge: Aaron, I hope I’m next to you the next time you get arrested, because I’m ready to be arrested. I hope some of you are ready to be arrested. We owe it. We owe it to our heritage, we owe it to the people who are suffering on the border. We owe it to what it means to be America. If we really believe in the values of America, if we believe in Justice for all, then how can we do anything less, than in a non-violent way put our bodies on the line and do whatever it takes to get the message through, that we demand justice for all…”

After the moment of silence (See first video at top of this piece) the Lights for Liberty vigil came to a close with a few words from Organizer Rodrigo Pimentel.


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About Steve Ahlquist 1027 Articles
Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade.Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading.atomicsteve@gmail.com

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