Hundreds support migrants at Lights for Liberty event in San Antonio
Some sat up front with posters held high that said “Make racism wrong again” and “Stop caging children.” Amens were yelled in response to the speakers’ proclamations
Others lounged in the grass, less brash, but wiping tears at the testimony of Maria Victoria de la Cruz, who spoke about her fear living as an undocumented immigrant.
In all, hundreds of San Antonio activists rallied downtown at Travis Park to protest the conditions of migrants in detention as part of the national Lights for Liberty event Friday, which also occurred in other U.S. cities.
“I think some people are quiet and think they’re the only ones who feel the way they do. I hope they see there are others that feel the same way they do,” said Mary Esther Escobedo, who sat in a chair holding a sign that read “Stop repeating history, it didn’t work the first time.”
Former San Antonio mayor and Housing Secretary Julian Castro, who is also a Democratic candidate for president, spoke to the crowd, along with state Rep. Diego Bernal, Councilman Roberto Treviño, and volunteers who provide humanitarian aid to migrants in the city.
Just half a block from where the rally was being held, about 200 migrants were settling into the Travis Park Church, an overnight shelter that opened in late March after U.S. Customs and Border Protection began releasing tens of thousands of migrants at the border.
One block further is the city’s migrant resource center, which opened its doors around the same time and has provided food, clothes, toys and bus and plane tickets to more than 23,000 asylum-seekers. It is actively seeking volunteers.
“I feel like I can’t believe this is happening,” said Susan Smylie, who walked through the crowd with a hat that said “life is good” but with a shirt less spirited.
It featured a quote from General Roméo Antonius Dallaire, a Canadian activist who tried to prevent Rwandan genocide before it occurred: “There are no humans more human than others.”
“I feel so helpless over what’s going on. I want to show some support and also learn more about what else I could be doing,” she said.
Emotions ran high during the rally, only weeks after a group of lawyers, and later Democratic lawmakers, toured a detention facility in Clint and said they found children hungry and dirty, malnourished and in some cases drinking toilet water in an overcrowded, squalid facility.
Soon after, the government’s own investigators issued a report underscoring these allegations, detaling squalid conditions for migrants at Border Patrol facilities in the Rio Grande. It spoke of “serious overcrowding and prolonged detention” at those facilities — so crowded that a group of migrants were forced to stand in an overcrowded cell for over a week.
Castro spoke about his recent visit to Florida’s Homestead migrant facility, where more than 2,000 migrant children are held by a for-profit company.
He stood on a ladder to get a view of the children, and was told if he yelled loud enough, maybe the children could hear him.
“And it struck me as we yelled out messages of support for the young children that were there, that even though sometimes it seems like your compassion and the hope you offer, and the support, is a little drop in the bucket, that it is heard,” he said. “That it does make a difference. That it does mean something.”
Around 9 p.m., as the sun drifted below the downtown buildings and all the speakers had finished, migrants from Angola, Congo, Haiti and Honduras began arriving at the Travis Park church. The crowd turned to watch them and held their candles high, waving them toward them in salute as “This Land Is Your Land” was sung.
“When the sun comes shining, then I was strolling, in the wheat fields waving and dust clouds rolling,” the crowd tentatively sang. “The voice was chanting as the fog was lifting, This land was made for you and me.”
Silvia Foster-Frau covers immigration news in the San Antonio, Bexar County and South Texas area. Read her on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: @SilviaElenaFF