Hundreds of Greater Clevelanders join Lights for Liberty Vigil to End Immigrant Detention at Market Square Park
by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, August 2019) On July 12thhundreds of people from throughout Greater Cleveland gathered at Market Square Park for the Lights for Liberty Cleveland Vigil to End Immigrant Detention. A cutout of the Statue of Liberty, just behind the Market Square stage, had a sign reading, “End Family Separation” attached to the liberty torch and another sign attached to lady liberty’s flowing gown reading, “End Immigrant Detention #DONTLOOKAWAY”. The statue with the signs served as a stark reminder of the contrast between the current United States administration’s policies and practices and the message from Emma Lazarus’ poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Jane Arnoff Logsdon, a local organizer for the event, mentioned some of the local organizations that helped to bring such a large crowd to participate in the vigil including: Cleveland Jobs with Justice, Indivisible CLE, the Immigration Working Group of Cleveland, Action Together Lakewood Area, Women’s March Northeast Ohio, Stand Up to Trump CLE, the Cuyahoga County Progressive Caucus, Cuyahoga Democratic Women’s Caucus and the InterReligious Task Force on Central America.
Arnoff Logsdon noted that Cleveland’s vigil was one of many Lights for Liberty events being held throughout the world to seek an end to detention centers for immigrants. The Lights for Liberty website lists 818 events being held worldwide “in solidarity and allyship with communities most impacted by the abuse of our immigration system.”
Kenyona Sunny Matthews, who helped organize the Women’s March for Northeast Ohio, warned politicians to work toward stopping the inhumane treatment of immigrants and those seeking refuge at our borders. She led the crowd in a chant saying, “We will vote you out!” describing what will happen if politicians failed to put an end to such policies and practices.
Dr. Arthur Lavin, the Chairperson of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on the Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, spoke on behalf of a number of physicians who attended the vigil wearing their white physician coats with their name tags.
Dr. Lavin said “the heart of tyranny is darkness. Every tyranny is defined by its level of cruelty.” He urged those present to work to “rid ourselves of tyranny.”
Lavin said, “The doctors of the United States stand with you today united for kids and people in need.” Lavin noted some statistics saying that one in four children in the United States lives in an immigrant family. He noted that terror experienced in childhood can cause permanent harm to children. He said the American Academy of Pediatrics cites cases of known permanent damage that has resulted from acts of detention of children.
He cited some of conditions and harms that children are experiencing in detention camps ranging from the withholding of personal care items to sexual abuse. Doctors want to send a message about what is happening in detention camps, saying “No, it is not ok.” He said doctors “know what happens to the mind and body when a person is held in detention as a child.”
Dr. Lavin urged those present to “Say no to tyranny.” He urged members of the crowd to do something every day between now and the next election to end this tyranny. Dr. Lavin suggested some reading material as well. He recommended those in attendance read Timothy Snyder’s book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.
Nalalia Alonzo, age 16, spoke next. She said when she was a child, her family had received a knock at the door, and her father had been taken away by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers.
Speaking to the crowd, the teenage activist said of the detention facilities at the border, “They are inhumane and wrong, and we know it. Children are given rotten food to eat. They would rather starve than eat it. We must never forget the children that have died in these camps. We must prevent these deaths from occurring again. They came to us for help. They didn’t deserve to die. They wanted to live.”
Alonzo then said she had a message for President Donald Trump, “My brothers and sisters are dying in your detention camps. This is not the America we know. These kids will be remembered, and they will be fought for.”
Members of the crowd were then asked to make a donation to the Immigrant Defense Fund by texting “Defense to 44321. The Immigrant Defense Fund helps families, such as the young woman’s, with legal representation when a family member is taken into custody by ICE.
Immigration Attorney Brian Hoffman spoke next. He called the family detention centers at the southern border internment camps that are “a crime against humanity.” Speaking of the actions of the Border Patrol and ICE, Hoffman said, “Do you feel safe because of what these people are doing?” Hoffman noted the detention of children started prior to the Trump administration. He recalled meeting with an eight-year old being held in detention four years ago, who told him “I don’t want to be here.”
Hoffman noted the situation has worsened in the Trump administration. He recited the names of children who have died in United States custody in the past eight months. He urged members of the crowd to call their priest, rabbi, or bishop and tell them the issue of treatment of immigrants is important to you. The faith communities need to be engaged, said Hoffman.
Hoffman also had advice for those who may be in danger of being picked up by ICE. He urged people in this situation to “digitize your documents and give them to someone you trust.” He said time is often limited when trying to prevent a deportation, and it is necessary to be able to get documentation filed quickly.
As for political action, Hoffman called for lighting up the switchboards of members of Congress. He urged those present to call their Congress person every day and recite the names of those that have died in United States custody in the detention centers.
A woman spoke of her concern with the lack of access to health care for immigrants and refugees being housed in prisons, including the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center. She brought up the cases of several people she was working with that had been denied needed health care. She questioned whether for profit prison companies should be running detention facilities. She noted, CoreCivic, a for profit prison company, owns 50% of the ICE Detention Centers.
- Brooke Baker, Senior Minister at Church of the Redeemer, United Church of Christ in Westlake, Ohio, opened her remarks saying, “I welcome the stranger and I love the neighbors.” Baker asked, “How long will we as American citizens ignore our role in children being forced to sleep on cement floors” in detention centers?”She asked how people claiming to be Christians can “ignore inhumane treatment of people?” Baker spoke of the 22 verses in the bible that speak of “welcoming the immigrant.”
Baker asked, ‘How long, Oh God, will we allow state sanctioned abuse by customs and border patrol? How long, Oh God, will we allow our tax dollars to be used for this cruelty? How long, Oh God, before children are no longer separated from their parents? How long, Oh God, before families at our border are seen as beloved Children of God?”
After the speakers finished their remarks, volunteers went throughout the crowd bringing candles and lighting them. Market Square Park was filled with a sea of candle light. Two young children held up signs that said, “Don’t Look Away” on one side and “Text DEFENSE to 44321 to donate to the Immigrant Defense Fund” on the other side. Led by Kenyona Sunny Matthews and the young 16-year-old speaker, the crowd repeatedly shouted, ‘Don’t Look Away.”
Matthews urged members of the crowd, “Don’t Look Away. This is one of the moments that can define us. Stay engaged. Don’t turn your back.”
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