July 17, 2019

Demonstrators Urge “Close the Camps”

“ANGRY AND UPSET AND DETERMINED”: Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker addressed the crowd of about 400 at the Lights for Liberty rally to support immigrants’ rights Friday night in Hinds Plaza. He urged an end to a policy of separating children from their parents at the border. (Photo by Andrea Kane)

By Donald Gilpin

Lighting candles “for liberty,” carrying signs, and chanting “close the camps,” more than 400 demonstrators gathered in Hinds Plaza Friday night to rally for immigrants’ rights and to protest policies of the Trump administration.

Sponsored by several local activist groups, Princeton’s Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Detention Camps was one of more than 700 events held across the country and around the world as tensions continue to rise over conditions at border detention centers and warnings of large-scale nationwide immigration raids.

“Values of our country are being trampled on again and again under this administration,” Princeton Councilwoman Leticia Fraga told the demonstrators. “We must demand that our country keep its promises. We cannot look away.”

One of a range of speakers who spoke about conditions at the border, policies in Washington, and consequences locally, Fraga continued, “We are here because we are outraged because of what is taking place at our borders.”

After playing a tape recording of children who have separated from their parents, Fraga urged the crowd, “Let’s march. Let’s shout. Let’s protest, so that when the history of what we have lived through is written, it will be known that we did not agree.”

The two-hour event featured more than 20 different speakers, including local officials, representatives of many different organizations, and several Dreamers and other recent immigrants. Demonstrators filled the plaza, many carrying signs and posters with such messages as “No Person is Illegal,” “#Don’t Look Away,” “Caging Children is a Crime, Not a Business Model,” “My America Welcomes Immigrants,” “Families Belong Together,” “End the Inhumanity,” and Separating Migrant Families is Inhumane.”

Speakers from Princeton Human Services, Princeton YMCA and YWCA, RISE, Solidaridad, Latin American Legal and Defense Education Fund (LALDEF), and other local organizations provided information about services, resources, and support for immigrants.  Speakers urged
listeners to get involved through volunteering, contributing funds, and supporting sympathetic political candidates.

“We hope attendees will view this rally as the beginning in their work to halt the inhumane practices at the border,” said event organizer and Indivisible Cranbury leader Laura Zurfluh in an email after the rally. “This movement will not end until comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship for Dreamers are the law of the land.”

Patricia Fernandez-Kelly, LALDEF board chair and director of the Princeton University Center for Migration and Development, criticized the country’s “broken immigration laws” that have “created an incredible crisis.” “The law should never be held above justice. What’s legal is not necessarily moral,” she said.

“Immigrants — now hear this Donald J. Trump — are part of our future,” continued Fernandez-Kelly. “We will endure. We will be better. We will protest and embrace those who arrive in search of opportunity.”

Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, calling for an end to policies that he described as “inhumane,” declared, “I refuse to believe that this is what our country is. I refuse to accept a policy separating children from their parents. That is not who we are.” He urged members of the crowd to continue to protest, and to vote. “We leave here today angry and upset and determined to make sure this never happens again,” he said.

Some of the other speakers included Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice Chief Activist Robt Seda-Schreiber, LALDEF Co-founder Maria Huega, and Princeton Human Services Commission Vice Chair Veronica Olivares-Weber.

As 9 p.m. approached, and darkness descended on Hinds Plaza, hundreds of candles were lit, and the two-hour event came to a close. The Rev. Alexis Fuller-Wright of Princeton Christ Congregation delivered the benediction. 

“We stand here tonight with millions across this nation to say ‘no’ to the lie that we need to fear our neighbors,” she said. “No to caging humans, no to those who would tear children from their parents.”

Urging listeners to be “weavers of hope, mercy and justice,” she continued, “Say yes to human dignity, to the preciousness of all life, to children and families and to the vital moral fabric of our lives. Go show the world that tonight is not the end of the story.”

Zurfluh urged attendees and others eager to help immigrants to join Lights 4 Liberty NJ on Facebook or visit the Lights for Liberty website at lights4libertynj.weebly.com