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Protesters call on Congress to close immigrant detention centers

Jul 3, 2019

Credit Noelle Evans / WXXI News

About 100 people rallied outside of the Federal Building on State Street in Rochester on Tuesday and called for Congress to put an end to immigration detention centers.

The demonstration was part of at least 184 protests nationwide coordinated under the hashtag #ClosetheCamps by MoveOn.org, ACLU, and other organizations. Organizers said they condemned documented inhumane treatment at immigrant detention centers and were calling for a permanent end to the practice.

For-profit detention centers run by Comprehensive Health Services Inc., whose parent company is Caliburn International Corp., have cost taxpayers $750 per child each day they are held in the facilities, Reuters reported.

After addressing the crowd over an organizer’s megaphone, the Rev. Joy Bergfalk said she was deeply troubled.

“I think many of us feel extremely powerless," she said. "I feel very powerless. I don’t know how effective demonstrations are, but we’re here.”

Zy’Asia Judd, a 19-year-old student, said she hoped the demonstration would encourage others to speak up.

“I’m just hoping that people realize that people care – that people who aren’t even affected by it care," Judd said. "And we will speak out about it until something changes.”

Among the crowd was SUNY Stony Brook student Alli Guzmán-Martinez, who joined her friends traveling from Syracuse to participate in the protest. Her father was deported last year.

“For that instance, it was a little bit different because my dad had to go through a whole process, and I knew he was leaving,” Guzmán-Martinez said. “But for people at the border, where it’s kind of unexpected or -- these are little children that are being torn away from their families. That’s just so inhumane and cruel, and I don’t think that’s something this country should stand for.”

Bearing signs reading “End Family Separations” and “Profit from Pain is Inhumane,” the crowd gathered on the sidewalk and overflowed onto the street.

People signed index cards and placed them into shoeboxes with the names of Rep. Joe Morelle and Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer, to be delivered at the end of the demonstration.

Credit Noelle Evans

Since last September, 11 people have died in U.S. custody after crossing the border. Four were children. One 10-year-old girl’s death had gone unreported for eight months. The latest reported death, on Sunday, was that of a 30-year-old father from Honduras who had been forced to await the decision of his asylum case in Mexico -- due to a recent policy change under the Trump administration.

As of July 5, Mark Morgan, the acting director of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE, will step in as the head official of Customs and Border Protection. A former Fox News contributor, Morgan pushed for community raids to round up and then deport any undocumented people, targeting more than 2,000 immigrants and their family members who had already received deportation notices, the New York Times reported.

On Tuesday, NPR reported that ICE had issued notices of fines up to $500,000 to undocumented immigrants who had not adhered to notices to leave the country.

The migrant crisis from Central American countries like El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras came to a head last fall when a series of migrant caravans traveled through Central America and Mexico to reach the U.S./Mexico border as President Donald Trump called for tighter restrictions on immigration.