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Local residents protest immigrant detention centers in candlelight vigil

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Residents of Palo Alto and Mountain View took to the streets Friday evening for an impassioned demonstration against the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions at immigrant detention centers along the U.S. border.

Carrying signs and LED candles, protesters amassed at the intersection of El Camino Real and Castro Street in Mountain View and encouraged drivers of passing vehicles to honk in support of the cause, leading to a continuous chorus of horns from many cars and even large semi-trailers.

The protest, which attracted hundreds of people, was organized by political activist organization Together We Will Palo Alto/Mountain View in collaboration with nationwide protests by the activist coalition Lights for Liberty. Protesters crowded the sidewalks to raise their signs in the direction of incoming traffic. Materials for posters and signs, as well as candles to borrow, were available onsite to the public.

“Show me what democracy looks like — this is what democracy looks like,” demonstrators chanted. 

The protest concluded with a mass reading of 19th-century poet and activist Emma Lazarus’s sonnet “New Colossus,” which is inscribed beneath the Statue of Liberty and reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

The Trump administration is currently detaining more than 50,000 people in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities, and approximately 20,000 more people are being held in U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities. While migrant parents await their immigration hearings in detention, the federal government has separated over 11,000 migrant children and infants from their parents and placed them under custody of U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS).

Reports and personal testimonies of overcrowding, poor sanitation and mistreatment by border officials in immigrant detention facilities have surged in the past year. Pediatrician Dolly Lucio Sevier — who toured the Ursula detention facility in McAllen, Texas, after a flu outbreak that sent five infants to a neonatal intensive-care unit — reported to ABC News “extreme cold temperatures, lights on 24 hours a day, no adequate access to medical care, basic sanitation, water, or adequate food.”

“It’s a basic violation of human rights, and we have a moral obligation to help others who are not in the same position as we are,” said Sabrina Chan, a rising junior at Palo Alto High School who attended the Friday vigil.

Officially titled “Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Concentration Camps,” the nationwide event brought protesters to key detention facilities in El Paso, San Diego, New York City and other US cities, as well as to over 700 regional vigils. In Washington D.C., hundreds of protesters gathered at Lafayette Park to bring the movement directly to the federal government.

Many protesters at Castro on Friday expressed empathy with the migrants in detention.

“My great grandfather came from Ireland when he was eleven by himself,” said Christine Kaeslo, a member of Together We Will Palo Alto/Mountain View. “I see my ancestors in the little kids who are coming across. I have a Girl Scout troop, and half of the kids in my troop look just like the kids in those cages.”

“The fundamental thing about what’s going on right now is dehumanizing people,” said protest attendee Mahbubul Alam. “We need to be human, and we cannot treat humans like cattle.”

In detention facilities, migrants have faced outbreaks of flu, lice, chicken pox and scabies, which were exacerbated by overcrowding and lack of basic sanitation. Teenage mothers are reportedly barred from washing their babies’ bottles. According to an NBC News analysis of federal data, 24 migrants, including seven children, have died in ICE custody during the Trump administration. 

“We cannot allow this to happen,” Kaeslo said. “It is against the entire question of ‘What is America?’”

Contact Esther Sun at sune2696 ‘at’ lgsstudent.org.

Esther was a high school intern for The Daily in summer 2019.