Lights for Liberty immigration protests over border camps planned at 700 cities July 12 – USA TODAY

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A young girl described her treatment while locked in a Texas border station where hundreds of other migrant children have been detained this year. (July 1) AP, AP

As undocumented immigrants brace for massive Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids expected to begin this weekend, advocates and concerned citizens around the country plan to call attention to the treatment of immigrants in detention centers through protests they call, “Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Concentration Camps.” 

The vigils are planned in hundreds of cities for 7 p.m. local time on Friday, July 12. Big cities and small towns will participate, and there is at least one event planned in every state in the US as well was five continents. There are more than 700 events planned, including:

“Lights for Liberty” was started by attorney Elizabeth McLaughlin and sponsors include the Women’s March, the Center for Popular Democracy, the Black Movement Law Project, and others, according to its website.

The vigils come amid reports of standing-room-only cells, infants going without diapers and outbreaks of shingles and other illnesses in detention facilities. This week, the U.S. received a strong call for improvement from the United Nations’ human rights chief Michelle Bachelet: “This should never happen anywhere.”

President Donald Trump said facilities were “beautifully run” last week after a government report was released documenting conditions. At least five children have died in Border Control custody, or after being released, since December, according to the Associated Press.

Organizers expect thousands to gather Friday evening in Washington, D.C., to “demand action from Congress to end concentration camps and impeach the president,” according to the website. The event will feature several speakers, including Rep. Norma Torres, D-Calif., who was born in Guatemala and immigrated to the United States at age five.

One D.C. organizer, Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Service, fled Sri Lanka with her family when she was 9-months-old.

“I know the America that welcomed us feels different than the America I see in our detention operations along the border,” Vignarajah said. “This vigil is about reminding us of who we are.”

She said the vigils should be peaceful and send a message that America is a place of refuge, not imprisonment, for those seeking protection.

“This cause is personal to me and my organization. My daughter is the same age as the sweet little girl Valeria who drowned just a few weeks ago – and her death was a searing image of the desperation of the conditions we’re creating for children and parents,” Vignarajah said. “All of them deserve to be treated as God’s children.”

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In Oakland, California, high school administrator Lyndsey Schlax is organizing an educational event for kids and parents.

“Rather than being a silent vigil to send a message to the world, we are trying to engage kids and young people and families and teach them how to have conversations about what is going on in the world,” Schlax said.

Schlax, 38, said she wants kids to feel like they have concrete, actionable, achievable ways to make the situation better. She said they’ll provide kids with plans and worksheets for setting up their own lemonade stands to benefit organizations like Immigrant Families Together. There will also be a letter writing session, which was inspired by Schlax’s 7-year-old son, Emmett. Kids will write letters to their peers in detention camps, fold their letters into paper airplanes, and fly them over a fence set up at the event. Organizers will then gather all the letters, and give them to a member of Congress to distribute during a visit to the detention centers.

There are events and vigils planned in populous metro areas in red and blue states, but also in many small towns. 

In Eau Claire, Wisconsin, organizers have planned a “Cacerolazo” protest, which is a Latin American tradition of banging pots and pans to raise awareness of an issue, said Jessie Crockett, an organizer for the event.

In Siloam Springs, Arkansas, Rev. Kaleb Graves, 22, said he will use scripture to call “white evangelicals” to action in the fight against unfair treatment in immigrant detention camps.

A recent Pew Research study found that more than two thirds of white evangelical protestants say the U.S. does not have a responsibility to accept refugees.

Graves disagrees: “Christianity, or any other religion, cannot simply be words and prayers without action.”

There was some pushback about religious involvement at the event, Graves said — from both sides.

Some worried about excluding non-religious people, Graves said, but he said he hopes to make his message inclusive to all. Graves is affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship but he said he plans to read from Leviticus and Deuteronomy about how to treat foreigners and refugees. He said he won’t cater it to any specific religion.

Graves said others were concerned that his involvement would come off as “inappropriately politicizing” religion.

He said he doesn’t think this is the case, and plans to speak anyway. 

“The message of Christianity, and religion in general, is that we should be protecting the most vulnerable in our society, but that has really been hijacked and changed,” Graves said.

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