GREENWICH — A crowd of nearly 250 people gathered together at a vigil in Greenwich on Friday night to protest what they called the Trump administration’s inhumane treatment of migrants at America’s southern border.
“We must shine a light on each and every horror,” Indivisible Greenwich co-founder Nerlyn Pierson told the crowd.
“We gather to raise awareness of the inhumane conditions at the border. We must speak of them regularly and not let this be normal,” said Pierson, who said her family was granted political asylum from Cuba as she exhorted the crowd to speak out against the poor conditions and urged everyone to take action.
The vigil sponsored by Indivisible Greenwich at Town Hall was part of the Lights for Liberty effort, with hundreds of similar vigils held throughout Connecticut and across the country.
At the culmination of the event, participants lit candles, flashlights and even their cellphones as they held signs that said: “Never again is now,” “Don’t look away,” “No human being is illegal” and “Silence is violence.”
Protesters blasted the treatment of migrants at the border, including the separation of children from their parents, the use of overcrowded cells and cages to detain people, and the failure to provide adequate food, medical care and basic necessities such as soap, toothbrushes and showers to adults and children.
And they heard first-hand testimony from someone who has seen those conditions. Greenwich resident U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4, brought his colleague, U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., who was part of a Congressional delegation that visited a facility in Florida run by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol last week.
Dean described seeing a small holding cell filled with 15 women that was so cold it was called “The Refrigerator.” The women had been there 56 days and had been moved into the cell only that morning after having been left in temporary housing outside, Dean said. The women had sleeping bags, but not cots, and they had received them only four days earlier.
“They had cracked lips from exposure and lack of water,” Dean said. “They were in a cell that was a prison cell, and behind a (low) partition was a stainless steel toilet with no seat for 15 women and they were told to drink out of it.”
That revelation drew an audible gasp from the crowd. Dean went on to say that she and her colleagues tested the sink and it did not work.
“The women said to us, six members of Congress, that they were told to drink out of the toilet,” Dean said. “The guard said, ‘We never told them to do that,’ and they said, ‘Yes, they did. And that was our habit in our temporary housing as well.’ That water is clean enough for you they were told.”
The vigil came after another week of media reports about inhumane treatment of migrants held in custody. And it came as President Donald Trump’s administration is expected to oversee raids starting this Sunday by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency to find and deport immigrants with outstanding orders to leave the country.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Greenwich resident, sent a statement to be read that blasted the planned ICE raids, calling them “a doubling down on despicable, draconian enforcement tactics.”
Speakers urged the crowd to not allow such actions to become normalized, to push back against it and to stop the policies. Joanna Swomley, a co-founder of Indivisible Greenwich, said some are denying the mistreatment of the migrants, others are attempting to justify it and many aren’t giving it any thought at all.
The migrants are coming to America to escape violence, brutal gangs and entrenched poverty, she said. They seek legal help only to find guards that tear their children away from them and force them into overcrowded cells, Swomley said.
“They are being met with increasingly disturbing treatment that is part of an intentional and deliberate policy designed to deter people from coming to our country, including those trying to exercise their legal rights,” Swomley said. “Even when individuals enter the country illegally it is never appropriate to subject them to the treatment being meted out to helpless captives at the southern border. We have to be better than this.”
Himes said this should not be a political or partisan issue — or even a debate about immigration policy. He said the issue was about the “obligation that we as human beings owe to each other.”
“This is not consistent with whom we are as a people and who we think we are as a country,” Himes told the crowd. “It is important that we raise our voices and raise our voices right. This has nothing to do with party. It doesn’t have a lot to do with policy. We need to raise our voices and make sure that every mayor, every governor, every state senator, every state representative, every senator and the president of the United States knows we demand that we be a better people than we have been to these vulnerable people who have come here not because they want to deal drugs or because they are a danger to us.
“They have come here for the same reason all of our ancestors came here, because they appreciate this country, the opportunity it offers and, most importantly, the decency of what it means to be an American,” Himes said.
Speakers also included clergy members as well as mental health experts who talked about the debilitating effects this can have on the children and adults in custody and about the country’s moral obligation to do something to help.
State Sen. Alexandra Bergstein, D-36, state Rep. Stephen Meskers, D-150, and Selectman Sandy Litvack were in the crowd, along with several members of the town’s Board of Estimate and Taxation and the Representative Town Meeting.
Greenwich Indivisible told attendees that they could help by contacting the ACLU and the Kids in Need of Defense and by contributing to fund for legal services.