A crowd of protesters bowed their heads as Pastor Daniel Medina led them in a bilingual prayer on the steps of Macon City Hall as locals joined a worldwide candlelit vigil in protest of America’s immigration policies as part of the Lights for Liberty movement.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials were set to conduct raids Sunday in major U.S. cities, including Atlanta, over the weekend. Although the raids never happened, protestors raised awareness about the conditions in migrant detention centers — two of which are in Georgia.
Claire Cox, president of Georgia Women And Those Who Stand With Us, said it was important for Macon to get involved in national activism.
“(Georgia Women) were all going to travel to Atlanta, and we realized, ‘No, we need to gather here in Macon,’” Cox told the crowd.
The organization joined forces with the Mercer University Immigration Law Society, Nuestra Voz Middle Georgia, The Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta and other groups to host the vigil.
One of Cox’s fellow members, Lynn Snyder, said that asylum-seeking migrants detained while trying to cross the Southern U.S. border face a lack of sanitation and inadequate access to food, water and healthcare in Customs and Border Protection facilities.
“We’ve been working really hard to get our elected officials to actually inspect Georgia’s detention centers and they have not listened to us, but the situation in detention centers is not new,” Snyder said. “The (Trump) administration’s policies are purposely malicious. It’s not illegal to seek asylum. It’s perfectly legal, but we are treating asylum-seekers as criminals and locking them up — adults and children.”
She said the system is so overcrowded that the average wait time for a hearing is 421 days. Georgia Women met detainees — all adult men — who had been incarcerated for three or more years at Stewart Detention Center, ICE’s largest facility with 1,896 people inside.
“ICE ensures detention facilities comply with ICE detention standards through an aggressive inspections program, the majority of which are conducted by an independent third-party contractor,” ICE Public Affairs Officer Lindsay Williams wrote in an email. “The Stewart Detention Center is subject to regular inspections, both announced and unannounced, and the facility has repeatedly been found to operate in compliance with federal law and agency policy.”
The protest continued with readings from religious texts, a call-and-response song led by Rev. Cassandra Howe of High Street Unitarian Universalist Church and a moment of silence while Snyder read a list of names of those who have died in ICE custody in the last two years.
Jenny Wright is the dean of students at Mercer University School of Law and a member of Georgia Women. As a student at the University of Tennessee, she conducted an intensive study of Nazi Germany while studying abroad. She said that today’s detention centers, like Stewart and the ones at the U.S. border, are nothing new.
“What’s going on in the detention centers I feel is somewhat similar to what happened during Nazi Germany and what this country did to Japanese (Americans) during World War II, and it really just blows my mind how few people seem to make that correlation,” she said. “It’s just pure torture.”
Wright said that although she has only lived in Macon for two years, she is proud to be part of the “inclusive community and people who want to effectuate change.”
“We are all immigrants, and I know it sounds really cliché, but the fact that certain people in our country think that we should have such harsh, strong barriers to people coming in — whether they’re seeking asylum or regardless of the reason — I just can’t comprehend it,” she said.