Hundreds of protesters gathered Tuesday in downtown Albuquerque to demand an end to inhumane conditions in detention centers at the U.S.-Mexico border. It was part of a nationwide response to federal immigration policies that have separated family members, led to migrant deaths in detention and sought to limit who can seek asylum in the U.S.
The noon heat approached 100 degrees as people lifted homemade signs and expressed their outrage. Sayrah Namaste with the American Friends Service Committee explained what advocates want from elected leaders.
“We want the camps to close,” she said. We want no more funding for detention and deportation. And we want you to bear witness and to actually go into the facilities.”
U.S. Representative Deb Haaland came out of her office and said the recent increase in Central American migrants is a challenge the Trump Administration has turned into a crisis.
“I am heartbroken about the treatment of human beings on the southern border,” Haaland told the crowd. “And if I could change it in a heartbeat, I promise you I would, but we’re working. I want you to know that I voted against that stinkin’ Senate bill.”
That Senate bill is a border aid package that President Trump signed this week. It provides $4.6 billion for humanitarian aid and increased security measures. Advocates say it doesn’t do enough to protect migrants being held in detention.
U.S. Senator Tom Udall, who voted for the bill, sent a representative with a prepared statement to the event who was shouted down.
U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich also voted for the border assistance package and it was his state director, Rebecca Avitia, who spoke.
“My own husband has undocumented immigrants in his family,” Avitia said. “This is personal to me. This is personal to Senator Heinrich. We know this has not been a perfect process. We are negotiating with the hostage taker. Nothing is perfect when we’re in this situation.”
Migrants, including unaccompanied children, have been held in cold, cramped and filthy conditions according to the Associated Press. And the Trump Administration has proposed sweeping restrictions on who can apply for asylum, changing the legal landscape for those fleeing violence in Central America.
Victor Romero has been helping asylum seekers who are passing through New Mexico on the way to meet sponsors. He’s with the NM Dream Team.
“There was a man that stood out to me a lot, he told me how his one year old child almost died in his arms,” Romero said. “He had been separated from his wife and the mother of his child. There are a lot of stories like that that are very difficult to hear.”
Speakers passed around the mic. Several people compared the confinement of migrants to other atrocities throughout history, including the U.S. forced removal of Native Americans, internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, and the Holocaust.
“Dehumanizing people, isolating them in ghettos, starving them, slandering them, humiliating them, confining them and feeding them the with state-sponsored abuse is exactly how the Holocaust started, no different,” said Emet Ma’ayan of Nahalat Shalom Jewish synagogue.
Huong Nguyen came out to protest with the New Mexico Asian Family Center.
“I have kids,” she said, “and the government priority shouldn’t be to keep children away from their family. Seeking refuge, seeking asylum shouldn’t be a problem. It’s just so wrong.”
Jessica Mills said she doesn’t have much faith in electoral politics. She wants community members to force a change.
“I would like to see us coming together en masse and closing the camps ourselves, and disarming border patrol and disempowering ICE.”
Mills said she’d also love to see employees of those federal agencies lay down their authority and help migrants.
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