Rallying to end misery in detention centers

Loxi Hopkins
People gather for a Lights For Liberty vigil in Moline, Ill., on July 12 to end mistreatment in detention camps of people seeking asylum in the U.S.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

MOLINE, Ill. — Standing outside in sweltering heat in downtown Moline, more than 500 people prayed and rallied the evening of July 12 to end mistreatment in detention camps. They were in good company. People in locations across the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom participated in Lights For Liberty vigils to peacefully protest the overcrowding and treatment of people seeking asylum at the U.S./Mexico border.

An interfaith immigration coalition that meets at the St. Vincent Center in Davenport organized the Moline event. Coalition member Loxi Hopkins, a volunteer in the Diocese of Davenport’s Social Action office, believes it’s an issue that should concern all Americans. “It doesn’t matter what party you’re with or what you think about immigration reform. We’re a country of moral values, and we as a country cannot treat people in abusive and inhumane ways.”

Recently, detention centers along the border — some private and some government-run — have been inundated with people from South America and Central America who hope to seek asylum in the United States. That situation, coupled with long waits to see a judge, means people are spending more time in detention centers. Some facilities have come under fire for reported squalid conditions, separation of families and failing to meet the basic needs of those seeking asylum.


Earlier on July 12, Vice President Mike Pence visited two migrant detention centers in Texas. The New York Times quoted him: “I was not surprised by what I saw,” he said at a news conference “I knew we would see a system that was overwhelmed. This is tough stuff” (www.nytimes.com/2019/07/13/us/mike-pence-border.html).

Currently, detention centers in the U.S. do not have a universal set of care standards. Freedom for Immigrants, an advocacy group, reports that medical neglect and poor nutrition are the top complaints they receive from people in migrant detention centers.

Hopkins said the Quad-Cities community showed support for the vigil from the planning stages. The coalition ultimately chose downtown Moline for the event because streets are blocked off on Friday nights for the Mercado on Fifth Street festival. Modern Woodmen Park, Vander Veer Park and The River Center, all located in Davenport, offered to host the vigil. “We thought the welcome was amazing,” Hopkins said. “Everyone sees this as an important thing.”

During the vigil, a diverse group of participants heard stories from immigrants and immigration attorney Dan Vondra of Vondra & Malott, PLC, Iowa City, before praying together. Their stories aimed to help participants better understand the reasons why people seek asylum in the U.S. The Davenport Diocese and other religious groups, unions and nonprofits were among the vigil’s 27 sponsors. St. Ambrose University professor Keith Soko served as emcee.

“We are expressing solidarity; there are others examples of solidarity that will happen in the next days and weeks as we try to figure out how to prepare a humane response to people in great need,” said Kent Ferris, the Davenport Diocese’s director of Social Action. “We will not make desperation a crime.”

He is heartened by the response of many entities — religious and secular — seeking solutions to the humanitarian crisis. Iowa City Catholic Worker (celebrating Mass at press time July 16 on behalf of refugees in detention camps), Vondra and the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa are among those advocates. “Different people from different parts of the community are working together and responding to needs of families while we press elected officials for systemic responses for whole groups of people,” Ferris said.

Hopkins was encouraged by the turnout at the vigil, despite parking issues and high temperatures. “You know it had to be important for them to be there.”

Lights for Liberty organizer Kristin Mink said in a press release, “Now is the time for every person to stand up and say, ‘We will not accept this!’ No more hesitating. No more denial. No more fear. We need to be bold, and loud, and unrelenting. That’s the only way we can stop this.”

(Barb Arland-Fye and Elizabeth Starr contributed to this story.)

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