Over 300 people gathered at the corner of El Camino Real and Castro Street Friday night in a vigil protesting the incarceration and detention of asylum-seekers at the United States’ southern border.
The vigil, organized by Together We Will of Palo Alto and Mountain View, was one of 780 Lights for Liberty vigils held around the world on July 12.
Christine Case-Lo, a Together We Will member, said that the demonstration was humanitarian in nature, not political. “There are kids who are dying,” she said.
It would only take a shift in policy to allow the government to monitor those seeking asylum without separating families or keeping people in cages, without access to beds, pillows, water, or showers, Case-Lo said.
“I don’t care who started it, (it’s) now an enormous manufactured problem,” she said.
The crowd stood along the sidewalks at all four corners of the intersection and reached its peak around 8:30 p.m. Protesters held signs that said “Keep families together” and “Never again is now.” There was not a quiet moment during the event, which started at 7:30 p.m., either from the chants of “Show me what democracy looks like,” to the passing drivers honking their horns in support. Some cars drove down the same stretch of El Camino multiple times, honking and waving at protesters.
Most vigil attendees advocated for ending the separation of families, the dehumanization of immigrants and ending of inhumane conditions within the detention centers.
Mountain View resident Kathleen Miller said she attended the protest to exercise her First Amendment right of free speech and to document her outrage with how people are being treated by ICE and the U.S. Border Patrol. “As a white person, understanding that our fellow human beings who are brown and black are being treated horribly,” Miller said. “We have a problem with racism in America.”
Many held signs that said “We are all immigrants” and several people spoke of the United State’s history of restricting immigration or increasing deportation measures. Protesters said that the current anti-immigration policy is inherently racist.
Social worker Heliana Ramirez traveled to detention centers in Clint, Texas and Eloy, Arizona, and said that she is particularly concerned about how the trauma is affecting adolescent brains. She said that methodology to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is not adequate for the severe and continuous trauma children face while detained.
Ramirez said that most of the language around immigration is coded racist language, and that white immigrants are not the targets of Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids, which were expected to occur in the Bay Area starting Sunday. “White folks who are here without papers do not have to worry.”
The event culminated in a candle-light reading of poet Emma Lazarus' verse that's inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Case-Lo said she recognized that not everyone could attend an organized event, but that lighting a candle on your front porch would be a way to let others know that you do not tolerate the current treatment of immigrants.