More than 200 people gathered in Dubuque’s Washington Square on Friday evening to oppose a policy of detainment and separation of families at the United States’ southern border.
Dubuque’s was one of hundreds of “Lights for Liberty” vigils held across the U.S. to rally against alleged inhumane treatment of migrants in detention centers, which organizers called “concentration camps.”
The detainment policy, championed by the administration of President Donald Trump, has earned widespread condemnation from Democratic lawmakers and human rights groups. Migrants reportedly are being held in cramped conditions, and often lack basic hygiene supplies.
Local organizer Shari Flatt, of Indivisible Dubuque, said the event was planned in part to inform folks of their options for how to support the migrants.
But more than anything, Flatt said, it was a place for people to share.
“On top of thinking about what we can accomplish, part of what we’re accomplishing is a way of venting,” she said. “So many people are so upset about the conditions in the country. When they start using language like concentration camps, you can tell how outraged they are. We need to do it louder. We need to continually do it.”
Ann Staley, a longtime librarian at Carnegie-Stout Public Library, was grateful for the opportunity to share her feelings.
“This is the first I’ve really gotten involved in anything in a while,” she said. “I just hurt too much. I am outraged. It makes me cry. I needed to be here, to be part of the community that is at least recognizing what is happening.”
Democratic state lawmakers dotted the crowd, as did representatives of at least eight Democratic presidential primary candidates.
But Flatt said this wasn’t a partisan event. She invited Republican lawmakers as well, she said.
Caprice Jones, executive director of the Fountain of Youth program in Dubuque, stressed during his speech that he didn’t subscribe to a political party. He said, in fact, that he had stayed away from the border detainment issue because of the politics around it.
But he has reached his breaking point.
“Children are being held in what are called detention centers,” he said. ‘If this is true, it should not be so. No human being should be demoralized that way. The effects and trauma it causes will last generations to come.”
More than politicians, clergy were represented strongly in the crowd. Dozens of sisters religious, pastors, priests and other spiritual leaders stood with the group.
The Rev. Lillian Daniel, of First Congregational Church, spoke, likening the families crossing the southern border with those like that of Moses and Jesus from Judeo-Christian scripture.
“When you see suffering and go home the same, I don’t know what to say,” she said. “The Bible is basically a collection of immigrant stories. The humans come off as good or bad, but the theme is the same. God is on their side. God is on the side of the wanderer.”