Fayette County

‘We cannot allow it to continue.’ Hundreds in Lexington protest treatment of immigrants

‘Lights for Liberty’ vigil in Lexington protests conditions in border detention camps

Hundreds of people attended a "Lights for Liberty" vigil in Lexington Friday, voicing their support for immigrants and protesting the conditions that have been reported at detention camps for people who are caught trying to cross the U.S. border.
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Hundreds of people attended a "Lights for Liberty" vigil in Lexington Friday, voicing their support for immigrants and protesting the conditions that have been reported at detention camps for people who are caught trying to cross the U.S. border.

Amid recent reports about crowded, unsanitary conditions at sites where children and adults are held after being caught trying to cross illegally into the U.S., a vigil “to demand the end of the detention camps” drew hundreds of people to the Robert F. Stephens Courthouse plaza in Lexington Friday night.

“It’s sad that we’re even doing this,” said Milton Meza De Los Santos of the Kentucky Dream Coalition, who helped organize the event. “The United States has gone down such a dark path that we’re having to shine a light.”

The event was part of the national “Lights for Liberty” movement, which designated July 12 “to protest the inhumane conditions faced by migrants.”

In recent weeks, reports have surged about conditions at the border: of immigrant children dying while in U.S. custody, of inadequate food and hygiene facilities and of holding cells crowded far beyond capacity. Some of the information came from a report by inspectors from the Department of Homeland Security.

And in the midst of that, it was reported earlier this week that the Trump administration is moving forward with plans for a major immigration enforcement effort targeting families with final deportation orders.

In response, hundreds of vigils were planned across the nation Friday night. Aside from Lexington, events were planned in several other Kentucky cities, including Bowling Green, Danville, Florence, Frankfort, Louisville and Paris.

At the local vigil, sponsored by the Bluegrass Activist Alliance and several other organizations, speakers included Lexington Bishop John Stowe and Rabbi David Wirtschafter of Temple Adath Israel.

Stowe called on attendees to “resist this kind of illegal action by our government.”

“There has been one chapter after another of serious atrocities intentionally perpetrated on some of the most vulnerable people,” he said. “Family separation, loss of children in custody, two dozen deaths in ICE custody since 2017, children in cages, living under bridges in extreme temperatures, shielded from public view, assaulted and brutalized, underfed and without facilities for bathing and hygiene. ...

“Cruelty toward the suffering and bullying the most vulnerable should not be national policy and we cannot allow it to continue,” he said.

Brenda Vanegas, who works for a nonprofit organization that serves schoolchildren in North Lexington, told attendees that she was 6 years old when her parents brought to the United States “for a better life.”

She has remained here under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, or DACA. She said she will have to renew her status this fall, and the idea of that is scary.

“To have that fear of losing this life is horrendous,” she said. “If I’m feeling that fear, I can just imagine the little kids who can’t even get a hug. ...That breaks my heart.”

Several organizations that provide support to immigrants had tables set up at the event, and the Bluegrass Activist Alliance offered attendees the opportunity to write postcards voicing their opinions to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. Rand Paul and Rep. Andy Barr.

At the conclusion of the vigil, participants lit up their cell phones and held glow sticks in a moment of silence for those detained in the camps.

“I am very, very confident that our light will reach them over there,” Meza De Los Santos told the crowd. “It has to.”

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Karla Ward is a native of Logan County who has worked as a reporter at the Herald-Leader for 18 years. She covers breaking news.
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