HIGHLAND — Just a day before a nationwide immigration enforcement operation is said to begin, Region activists gathered to voice their demands for change and to disseminate information that could help immigrant families.
Nearly 100 people gathered Friday evening at the Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Detention Camps, a nationwide event created to call attention to the conditions in what they called immigrant concentration camps.
The rally was at the Veterans Memorial at Wicker Memorial Park in Highland, framed by the eternal flame torch and the bustling intersection of Ridge Road and Indianapolis Boulevard.
Children stood at the intersection holding neon signs reading messages such as “Kids should not be locked up” scrawled in colorful markers. Honks from passing drivers elicited smiles and cheers from the group of youngsters, who were there with their adult counterparts to protest the treatment of migrant children the same age as them.
Lorrell Kilpatrick, of East Chicago, testified to the group about what she saw a week ago when she visited an immigration resource center in San Antonio, Texas.
“We have to do what we can to fight this,” Kilpatrick said. “We have to. Being here is doing something. If we're not pushing ourselves to do more, we're not doing enough. That's what this trip re-invigorated in me — to do more. This is real. People are afraid for their lives. I looked at these kids, I looked at these mothers, I looked at these fathers. They looked just like me. They looked just like you.”
Kilpatrick, a member of Black Lives Matter Gary, said the social injustices minorities and vulnerable demographics face are intertwined. Many times during her speech, she looked out into the crowd saying, “We must unite this fight.”
“If we're looking for lasting change, if we're trying to make things better and keep them better, we're going to have to analyze these systems we live under," Kilpatrick said. "We have to analyze these profit-over-people systems.”
Much of the outcry was centered around the reported abuses within the largest holding facilities of asylum seekers, such as a center in Homestead, Florida, a converted Walmart building in Brownsville, Texas, and a tent camp in Tornillo, Texas.
Last month, lawyers reported that an estimated 250 children were being held with inadequate food, water and sanitation in a facility in Clint, Texas, where they were held in cinder-block cells, the Associated Press reported.
The camp in Tornillo, which at one point housed as many as 2,800 children, closed in January. The Department of Health and Human Services recently opened another facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas, which currently houses 225 children but may grow to as many as 1,300 children, according to AP reports.
Jose Bustos, a speaker and activist with Catholic Charities, pointed out the reported cost of $775 per day, on average, for each child in the holding centers.
“There are those making big profits out of the suffering of the innocent,” Bustos said. “I'm sure you heard the number ... When you're talking about thousands and thousands of people detained every day, you're talking millions of dollars a week. So this is not about the law. It's about profitability, plain and simple.”
The nationwide operation targeting undocumented immigrants looms in murky uncertainty. It is rumored to begin this weekend after it was postponed last month, according to White House officials and immigrant activists.
The operation is said to target people with final deportation orders, including families whose immigration cases were fast-tracked by judges in 10 major cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Miami, according to the AP.
Scott Houldieson, rally organizer and chapter leader for Progressive Democrats of America Calumet Region, said he suspects ICE's enforcement efforts could bleed over into the Region.
Ruth Needleman, human rights activist and a retired professor at Indiana University Northwest, said every Friday morning, undocumented immigrants are deported from the Gary/Chicago International Airport in shackles.
“Immigrants who have committed no criminal act, they are guilty of a civic offense of not having documents, are deported from the Gary airport,” Needleman said. “ … Tens and thousands are deported from the Gary airport. And they are dropped on the other side of the border without money, clothing, food or shelter.”
She said Saturday morning the Northwest Indiana Resist coalition will be handing out fliers in East Chicago informing immigrants of their rights to resist ICE.
Looking around at the large crowd packed around the memorial, Jennifer Pizzuto-Dean, of Munster, said she felt hope.
“I am horrified by what I am hearing of what's going on in these detention centers,” Pizzuto-Dean said. “I hate feeling hopeless. But if doing something means banding together with others who feel the same, that's what I am going to do. … It's nice to see I'm not alone. There are people of all ages and color here. It's really uplifting to see the solidarity.”