Protesters decry treatment of asylum seekers

About 300 people gathered Friday night in Ashland Plaza for Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Concentration Camps, a nationwide event protesting what was described as “appalling” and “deeply disturbing” U.S. immigration policies. Ashland attendees called for an end to child detainment and separation from parents, as well as fewer delays processing asylum requests.

“The targeting and detainment of undocumented immigrant folks in our country is a gross human rights violation and racism at its finest,” said Bianca Ballara of Phoenix, a community organizer with Beyond Toxics and the daughter of Cuban immigrants. “After all, we aren’t hunting down and isolating Canadian or Australian immigrants, are we? No, ICE is looking predominantly for people who can be identified by skin color.”

In a statement read by Indivisible organizer Teresa Safay, Sen. Jeff Merkley thanked protestors for “standing in solidarity with thousands of refugees, asylum seekers and children suffering unthinkable abuses … as a misguided and immoral attempt to deter people from seeking asylum.”

Merkley decried the lack of food, hygiene and care at immigration detention centers, which he was among the first to expose in personal visits. Merkley added in his statement that the Trump administration is “still inflicting trauma on children as a strategy for deterring immigration (which is) immoral, evil and un-American.”

Pauline Sullivan of Ashland said, “It breaks my heart because children are in cages — and Trump is not listening.”

Donna Breedlove of Medford (where an earlier rally was held Friday) said, “What’s going on is deeply disturbing, that children have died in the hands of our border patrol in extreme distress. This is not a partisan thing. It’s human rights. I could not stay home. It’s so important people gather together because this is painful.”

Carl Darnell said, “I’m appalled the U-S of A has a policy imprisoning children and separating them from parents. I can’t live with myself unless this stops. I’m doing all I can protesting, writing letters to the editor and Congress.”

Elin Babcock said, “Children in prison camps is not my USA.”

Lynn Ramsford said, “Everyone in this country should be here. It’s astounding we’re so quiet. This is shameful. It’s not who we are.”

Katherine Nabielski said, “We should be learning from history, not repeating it. We are a country about liberation.”

Nick Morales of Unete Farm Worker Advocacy lauded the recent legalization of driver’s licenses for all Oregonians, noting it’s a “life changer” and, along with other steps, helps “save young children from unnecessary trauma and lifelong anxiety and isolation.

“Now we can feel the tension in the community with the pending ICE detentions programmed to start Sunday.”

Morales told immigration success stories — a woman separated from her children in Texas, the children flown to New York, but through the work of the Together & Free organization, were reunited with extended family in Southern Oregon. Here, he said, ICE put a tracking collar on her ankle.

He outlined ways people could get involved, including, as part of the Southern Oregon Rapid Response Team, providing support to families, community outreach and observing detentions. He invited all to attend and sign up at a meeting Tuesday, Aug. 6 at 6 p.m. at the Medford library. Morales said he can connect volunteers with other groups at the border to assist.

Immigration attorney John Almaguer, of Medford, told the crowd they can help with financial contributions, providing spare rooms, lawyers, airline frequent-flyer miles and mentoring in English.

He said 10.5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. now are “pawns in the politics of the moment,” with many “collateral detainees” caught up because they were present when ICE showed up. In addition, 680,000 DACA (children of undocumented people) “live in constant fear, subject to removal from the only country they call home.”

Merkley ended his letter, “Kids belong with people who can properly care for them and in schools and on playgrounds, not behind bars. I will continue the fight for a nation that treats children and all who come fleeing violence with dignity and respect.”