By Pam Smith
On July 12, more than 25 Gainesvillians answered the call to go to Homestead, Florida to take part in a Light for Liberty Vigil. It was one of many vigils across the southern part of the United States to highlight the plight of jailed immigrants.
Homestead was the location for the largest detention center for migrant children, with more than 3,000 children held there. Many had been separated from their families at the border.
The detention center sits on federal land, which allows it to be unlicensed, unregulated and unaccountable. The majority of these kids have relatives or sponsors waiting for their release, but the government was not releasing them.
About a month after our vigil, the feds closed down this detention center and said that the children have mostly gone to homes, but we have no way to verify this. They may have been moved to less accessible places, where witnesses cannot document their plight. The children who turn 18 are shackled and transferred to adult detention centers.
We met at a Publix parking lot in Homestead to take a school bus onto federal land where the detention center is located. Publix would not allow us to park in their lot, so we had to find parking across the street in another big parking center.
There were about 4,000 people from all over Florida who came to be witnesses, led by rabbis from local synagogues. There was a quiet, peaceful feel to the vigil. It was blistering hot at 7 pm. At nightfall, the witnesses who had held daily vigils for months, projected a power point presentation of facts onto the detention fence.
They also set up ladders so that we could see and be seen by the kids to let them know they had support. Many of us waved signs that said “Los queremos” (We love you) over the fences. We sang and yelled loudly hoping our words would reach them.
This is a long fight. Each side hopes to hold out and wear down the other side. I hope we can be the side that defeats the evil that is the other side.
To quote Martin Luther King, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”