“Keep families together! Keep families together,” echoed from a group of people at the Historic Cache County Courthouse lawn as they gathered for the “Lights for Liberty” vigil Friday evening.
The “Lights for Liberty” event in Logan was one of over 700 events planned across five continents to raise awareness of the conditions immigrant refugees are facing in detention facilities in the southern United States.
“I feel like right now, you have to take a stance,” event coordinator Nathaly Lambert said. “We cannot be silent. We have to — if you are against these horrors — you have to say something.”
The vigils take place amid growing criticism of conditions in detention facilities and among threats of massive Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids of undocumented communities to begin as soon as Sunday.
“This vigil is so that we can make changes in the policies and the behavior of our government towards these asylum-seeking families,” Lambert said.
Lambert said one of the goals of the vigils is to be a voice for the families and bring awareness and empathy to the families coming to the United States.
“They are trying to flee violence,” Lambert said. “They are trying to feed their children. They are trying to have a better life.”
Participants came with tea light candles and with signs saying, “Kids don’t belong in cages,” “Don’t look away,” “Never again is now,” and “We are here to stay.” Some fliers informed residents of their rights if Immigration and Customs Enforcement comes to their homes.
Before the vigil, the organizers experienced some technical difficulties, but Utah State University Latinx Studies Assistant Professor Crescencio Lopez Gonzalez said they event would go as scheduled.
“That’s not going to stop us from speaking and for not being afraid and from coming out and stand up for those who aren’t able to do it,” Lopez Gonzalez said.
Four speakers took the stage to share personal experiences as immigrants to the United States and to share how reported conditions in detention centers could affect the mental state of the children being held.
Utah State University Spanish Professor Maria Cordero shared her story and how her family immigrated to the United States from Cuba when she was only 2 years old. She shared the struggle that her family fled from and the opportunities the United States offered her and her family.
Cordero said although statistics show fewer refugees are being admitted than in the past, the current policies are slowing down the process for refugees to be heard and processed.
“Because of this situation, people are coming via routes that are even more dangerous than in the past,” Cordero said. “That is why we are seeing an increasing number of deaths, and it is only going to get worse.”
Refugees who do make it to the U.S. and detained at the facilities, according to Cordero, are separated from families, and children do not have access to hygiene essentials like soap, baths or toothbrushes. In many cases children do not have access to warm food or medical attention.
“Anywhere else, this would be considered child abuse, and that is exactly what it is,” Lambert said. “It is state-sanctioned child abuse.”
Mental Health Advocate Luis Rodriguez said this abuse can cause trauma that could affect immigrant children for the rest of their lives.
“The trauma that they are experiencing is going to be long-lasting,” Rodriguez said.
Through tears, Lopez Gonzales shared a poem he wrote titled “Ms. Liberty, Why Have You Forsaken Us?”
“Tonight, I call on you, Ms. Liberty, dreaming that Americans will see beyond the color of my skin through this perilous night,” Lopez Gonzalez read. “Tonight, I call on you, Ms. Liberty, to join the resistance and fight together to fight for freedom and justice for all.”
Lambert said there is no excuse for what is happening in the detention centers and hopes the vigils will help shine a light on what is happening.
“Children are literally dying. Children have already died,” Lambert said. “Those children are our children, too.”