~a column by Colleen O’Brien
In 700 cities across the country, activists and children’s advocates, ordinary citizens with no affiliations, kids, people young, middle aged and old, female and male, black, brown and white gathered at children’s detention centers or in front of courthouses to make a statement against the incarceration of brown kids who have been separated from family or who crossed into the U.S. alone.
I went to Homestead, FL, for this national protest called “Lights for Liberty.” Homestead is south of Miami and on the road to the Keys. It is where the largest detention center for unaccompanied foreign minors is located.
The camp is on federal property that was damaged in Hurricane Andrew in 1992. It is in a corner of an Airforce Reserve base among buildings that have not been fixed or updated and are reportedly full of mold. Large rigid-sided tents have been erected; these are used for the children’s bedrooms, cafeteria, classrooms.
The number of children in the Homestead facility is estimated at 2,000 to 2,700, 13 to 17 years old. Their stay is supposed to be no longer than 25 days, but many have been there up to six months according to the children’s own statements via interviews by CBS.
I stood on a curb across the street from the Homestead facility and watched kids being marched around and other kids playing soccer. It was orderly, regimented. My friends and I and about 2,000 others waved, held our signs of love and support. We were told that the confined kids were not supposed to look at us, wave or shout. Some of them did.
The information regarding this particular camp is sketchy and contradictory. A few people – selected media, some U.S. elected officials, designated lawyers – have been let in. When parents can be reached by telephone, their children can call them and talk for a total of 5 minutes twice a week. The children are told to touch no one, never eat in their rooms, do nothing alone, never hug each other or their siblings. Some guards tell them they will remain longer in detention if they break these rules.
I talked to people from Miami, Naples, Sarasota, Gainesville, Orlando; and from Georgia, New York state, Minnesota, Alaska, Brazil, Israel and Iceland. I asked them why they came: “ to protest putting children in a concentration camp”; “to let the President know we don’t like this happening in our country”; “to give support to these children without their parents”; “to fight for those who have been shushed.”
Then I photographed people’s signs with my phone. When it died, I copied the sentiments. They tell the story better than I can:
• Roses Are Red/Tacos Are Enjoyable/Don’t Blame Mexicans/Because You’re Unemployable
• Stop the Madness/Reunite Families
• Families Belong Together
• Make Empathy Great Again
• Private Companies Run Children’s Prisons for Profit
• Close the Camps Now
• I Was a Stranger & You Did Not Welcome Me” [Matthew 25:43]
• Standing on the Side of Love
• Where Is your Heart?
• Separation = Child Abuse
• Refugees Welcome
• Stop Using my Taxes to Create Trauma
• Amber Alert! Child Detention continues!
• 2,000 Children Caged without Hope
• Ask an English Teacher: concentration camps (n) ‘guarded compound for the imprisonment of aliens, members of ethnic minorities, political opponents’
• When Will this End?
• Why Be Racist, Sexist, Homophobic or Transphobic When You Could just Be Quiet?
• Traumatizing Kids Is Shameful
• ‘Never Again’ Is Now
• We Are One Human Family
• Children Are Not Criminals
• Freedom Cares
• All Children’s Lives Matter
• Kids + Parents
• They Need Their Parents Like I Need Mine
• Give me your tired, your poor, your huddles masses yearning to breathe free.”
• There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” Elie Wiesel
• The opposite of love is not hate. It is indifference.” Elie Wiesel
• Love Has No Borders
• We Are One Human Family
• Don’t Look Away
• “Suffer the Little Children” [Jesus/Matthew 19:14]
• We Stand Outside: We Are the Antithesis to Ellis Island
• Phony Capitalists Are Making Money off Children
• No Hate/No Fear/Immigrants Are Welcome Here
• The Test of a Civilization Is in How We Help the Helpless
• We Speak Against the Hate that Has Come into our Community
• Happiness Is Your Right
• We Are Here Today Because We Have to Be: The Lessons of History Demand It
• Free the Asylum Seekers
• We Are Here to Rebuke Power that Hurts
• Stop Pretending your Racism Is Patriotism
• Children Are for Loving, not Caging
• Continue to Demand an End to this Manufactured Crisis
At sunset, before the lighting of candles symbolically to shed light on these camps, speakers came to the mic.
A Quaker leader said, “We are a gathering of people of good conscience. We are here until the truth is heard, until every town and every city become corners of compassion for all human beings.”
A Jewish rabbi said, “God said that every human being is born with dignity. The Bible has been twisted over the centuries – during the Third Reich, Christians supported Hitler.”
A Muslim imam said, “That individual who separates a mother from her child will be separated from loved ones after death. Human decency is not a privilege; it is a right.”
When a government has the power to deny legal rights and due process to one vulnerable group, everyone’s rights are at risk. Anyplace in the world.