On Friday, immigrant reform organization Mano Amiga and local clergy hosted a candlelight vigil at the Hays County Historic Courthouse to express the community’s frustration with the treatment of immigrants at the migrant detention centers on the southern border as part of the Lights for Liberty international day of action.
The Department of Homeland Security reports dangerous living conditions at detention facilities due to overcrowding and low resources. Officials visited the Rio Grande Valley detention facility in early June and there were about 8,000 individuals in custody. Of those 8,000, 3,400 were held longer than the 72 hours normally permitted and 1,500 were held longer than 10 days. Many detained individuals, both children and adults, have not had access to a shower or a warm meal and are sleeping on concrete floors.
Mano Amiga co-founder Karen Muñoz said she hopes people realize the issue goes beyond detention centers.
“I hope this helps people understand that criminal justice reform efforts locally are ultra important.” Muñoz said. “If we can get a warning ticket instead of an arrest, instead of the county jail booking someone, that’s inherently linked to the detention of immigrants.”
Texas State alumnus and Mano Amiga event organizer Faylita Hicks said they hope the Vigil will inspire more people to come forward about what they believe in.
“We’re hoping that people will share the information that we share, that they will contact their local leaders and let them know that these are the issues that they care about,” Hicks said.
Muñoz said Mano Amiga hope to do more than just give the community a chance to grieve.
“If people have incarceration stories, regardless of their status, telling those stories is what will help local elected officials understand the importance of getting these reforms done, and these reforms are directly connected to these detention centers and jails,” Muñoz said.
San Marcos Lutheran pastor Tim Bauerkemper led other local clergymen in reading passages from the bible about the treatment of immigrants, calling on the audience to respond by saying, “who is my neighbor.” He said the point of these readings are not to have faith influence policy but to have influence on the individuals’ conscience.
“We have to ask, based on that found conscience, what policies should I advocate for,” Bauerkemper said. “I’m simply witnessing to my faith and the faith of my community as a Lutheran church that we take seriously welcoming stranger.”
Many other communities around the world held similar vigils, with some turning into protests against the conditions experienced in the camps and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids that were set to begin later that weekend.
On July 1, President Donald Trump signed a $4.6 billion border aid bill. This bill is aimed to help alleviate the issues at the border and improve the conditions of detention facilities. The scheduled ICE raids of major U.S. cities begin this week and are said to target migrant families with court-ordered removals.
Featured image by Juan Garcia.