Democrats and other supporters of migrants held at the country’s southern border protested in Longview on Friday, calling out the president and Congress on conditions the Trump administration last week described as “a ticking time bomb.”
“We have to speak out, we have to call our senators and elected representatives and tell them the (Trump) administration’s treatment of immigrants and asylum seekers is unjust,” local immigration attorney and self-described “proud immigrant” Louisa Anaka Orajjaka told about 90 people who gathered at Heritage Plaza in downtown Longview for a sundown protest and vigil.
Orajjaka said migrants held in detention camps at the border should have more access to attorneys to process their asylum claims more efficiently. She cited the Homeland Security Department inspector general’s report, which used the “ticking time bomb” metaphor and, among other ills, noted 900 people kept in a large cell designed to hold 125.
“This country remains the greatest country because this is the only country where immigrants can come to try ... and accomplish,” she said. “The conditions of the migrants in the camps is deplorable.”
Before the rally, Ruben Gutierrez of Tyler said he came to the Democratic Women of East Texas event to stand up for children held at the border, some of whom still are being separated from their parents. The New York Times, citing the inspector general’s report, said Friday that at least 18 infants to 2-year-olds have been separated from their parents for at least 20 days.
“It’s a state-sponsored child abuse,” Gutierrez said. “And we’re allowing it.”
Event organizer Mary Lou Tevebaugh noted President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan and pledge to “Make America Great Again.”
“In order for this country to really be great, we have to hold the idea of liberty up for all,” she said. “A great country doesn’t separate a child from his mother. A great country would never, ever put a child in a cage. ... Here tonight, and all over the country, ordinary people are joining together. And that is my vision for a greater America.”
The Rev. Kendall Land of First Presbyterian Church in Longview cited the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, exhorting them to extend hospitality to strangers.
“Because it makes common sense,” he said. “And that’s what we want, not just for our neighbors next door, but for our neighbors across the border. These are men and women and children who have been traumatized. They are fleeing from danger; they are asking for our help.”
Bitia Seravia, an immigrant from El Salvador and recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, contrasted the outcomes of the desert crossing she and her father made 30 years ago with that of Oscar Alberto Martínez and his 23-month-old daughter, Angie Valeria. The father and daughter drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande, and the photo of their lifeless bodies at the riverbank was broadcast worldwide.
“There’s no such thing as ‘anchor babies,’” the public school teacher said, using a phrase describing children whose mothers intentionally came here for birthplace citizenship. “There’s no such thing as a path to citizenship for ‘Dreamers’ like me. I have lived here for over 30 years, and I still have not found that way that doesn’t include going back to a country that I have never known. And because of you guys, I haven’t felt alone. We’re not here to avoid taxes; we’re not here to be on welfare.”