NEW YORK, N.Y.—Facing the back side of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices with chants of “Close the camps” and a forest of orange and white electric candlelights, more than 1,000 people rallied in lower Manhattan July 12, to protest what 32BJ SEIU called “the inhumane detention practices and brutal immigration policies of the Trump administration.”
Opening the rally in Foley Square, the Rev. Kaji Dousa proclaimed a “friendly warning” about the eternal consequences for “anyone who claims to be a Christian and ignores what Jesus said in Matthew 25”—to wit, mistreating or not helping “the least of my brethren.”
“For Jews around the world, Friday night is when we bless the children,” Rabbi Joshua Stanton added. “There cannot be a Shabbat of peace while there is a reign of terror against children in this country.”
The rally was one of about 800 “Lights for Liberty” protests held in 50 states and 20 countries. Labor organizations involved included 32BJ, the American Federation of Teachers, 1199SEIU, the Professional Staff Congress, and several United Auto Workers locals.
“One of the reasons I have always believed in unions is that they’ve always supported human rights,” American Federation of Musicians Local 802 member Thomas Gargano told LaborPress after the rally.
It was particularly emotional for the 32BJ members and staff clustered around the stage, as it came less than 24 hours after the death of the union’s president, Hector Figueroa. “He would not want us to be anywhere else tonight but here defending the rights of immigrants,” said 32BJ vice-president Alison Hirsch. As the Trump administration escalates attacks on immigrants, she added, “we will not panic, and we will not stand down.”
“Our movement lost one of our strongest warriors yesterday,” said Murad Awawdeh of the New York Immigration Coalition.
Muslim activist Linda Sarsour, wearing a hijab and a “SILENCE = DEATH” T-shirt from the AIDS activist group ACT UP, called the abolition of ICE the movement’s “most fundamental” demand. After reading the names of the six children who have died in federal custody in the last year—Darlyn Cristabel Cordova-Valle, 10, of El Salvador; and Guatemalans Carlos Gregorio Hernandez, 16; Juan de Leon Gutierrez, 16; Felipe Gomez Alonzo, 8; Jakelin Caal Maquin, 7; and Wilmer Josué Ramírez Vásquez, 2½—she said it is not “moderate” to allow any more. In 30 to 40 years, she said, people will ask “Where were you when children were being stripped from the hands of their mothers?”
People have “a duty not to remain silent, not to remain indifferent and insensitive to the atrocities on our border,” said Judy Sanchez of the New Sanctuary Coalition, speaking in Spanish.
At least 24 people have died in ICE custody during theTrump administration. According to a report released July 12, by the House Oversight and Reform Committee, more than 2,600 children have been separated from their parents, including at least 18 under 2-years-old who were kept apart for three weeks or longer.
The Trump administration contends that detaining children separately is legal because their parents are criminals because they crossed the border illegally, and children can’t be confined in places where criminals are held.
That is “beyond immoral,” Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) told the crowd. U.S. asylum law, he explained, is based on principles adopted after World War II and the federal government’s 1939 refusal to admit a ship carrying 900 Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, and it says that if people fear violence or persecution in their home country, they have the right to a hearing, “and there’s no place it says if you apply for asylum, you go to jail.”
The administration’s “conscious policy,” he continued, is “let’s torture the kids, let’s kidnap them to deter their parents.” Trump would like the asylum laws changed to allow indefinite detention of families, he added.
A handful of pro-Trump counter-demonstrators, one carrying a “Thank You ICE” sign, faced off against the protest on the west side of Foley Square, kept separate by a line of police.
Frank Barker, who immigrated from the Caribbean island of St. Kitts in the late 1970s, said he had spent two years in an ICE detention center. His case was complicated, Ravi Ragbir of the New Sanctuary Coalition told LaborPress, because ICE wouldn’t recognize that he came from the nation of St. Kitts and Nevis, and the country wouldn’t take him back. St. Kitts and Nevis, a former British colony, became independent in 1983, so Barker never lived there as a citizen.
“I just want to live,” Barker told the crowd. “At the end of the day, I’m still a human being.”