By Debbie Ramos and Natalie DeVito
On Tuesday, July 2, 2019, I rushed out of work early to join Natalie DeVito, another SIWWM member and one of the lead coordinators for the Close the Camps Protest in front of Congressman Max Rose’s Office. Natalie and I couldn’t get over the oppressive heat of the day and what refugees across the country must be feeling in these camps.
Under the threat of rain clouds, we joined other members of Staten Island and Brooklyn’s coalition of partners protesting outside of Representative Max Rose’s office to demand he take action to close the detention camps, reunite families, block funding for family detention and personally visit these camps. The event was sponsored by many organizations including Staten Island Women Who March, AAANY, Above Ground Railroad SI/BK, Action Corps, Bay Ridge for Social Justice, Dream Action Coalition, El Centro del Immigrante, Fight Back Bay Ridge, La Colmena, NY Immigration Coalition, NYS Immigration Action Fund, Peace Action SI, South Brooklyn DSA, South Brooklyn Progressive Resistance, Staten Island Immigrants Council, United Arab Women, Yalla Brooklyn and Yemeni American Merchants Association.
The protests were organized a day after it was announced that a sixth detained asylum seeker died in custody in the past 9 months. They were also sparked by multiple stories detailing conditions inside detention facilities, specifically those holding children. According to the New York Times article, hundreds of children were held at a facility in Clint, Texas, many without soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, clean clothes, or diapers.
Roughly 200 New Yorkers gathered outside of Max Rose’s Office while other protests were happening across the country. In Bay Ridge, protesters gathered around an animal crate with a doll covered in a solar blanket to represent the immigrant children in detention centers across the country. Screams of "What's outrageous? Kids in cages," rang through the air, supported by car horns — and the occasional "build a wall" chant by those opposed to the protest. I was moved by the number of children present. I watched mothers hold their babies tight, eyes closed, holding back tears at the mere thought of the unspeakable horror of having your child taken from you.
The groups called on Congress to close all immigrant detention centers, reunite separated families and for government to cease spending on detention and deportations. Many expressed outrage at the atrocities being committed by our government with taxpayer dollars. Congressman Rose supported legislation that funded further abuses and stripped all accountability for taxpayer funds for the sake of expediency. Natalie DeVito was interviewed by the BKLYNER and explained , “that nearly 200 people joined this protest within less than 72 hours notice, in the middle of a work day - shows that we are a community who will not enable human suffering and child abuse on our watch.” Natalie DeVito and many others are frustrated with Rose for not supporting the legislation that would have enforced compassionate treatment of those victimized. She states, “If you seek asylum, you're not supposed to come here to be treated like you're in prison and that's what's happening." Others explained, “Since the coup in Honduras around 10 years ago, the situation has gotten worse," "I can completely see why families are saying that North America sounds like a better option right now.”
Bay Ridge is a melting pot of cultures and ideas, with people unified in seeking accountability for their elected officials. Many of the folks at the protest supported and helped Rose to get elected, and now they are telling him there's no such thing as unconditional support: they are watching, and they will demand action that supports humane and thorough legislation and protections for all.
While the rally was going on, Max Rose watched it via livestream and tweeted:
The attendees of this nationwide protest hope to see action. On July 12th, 2019, SIWWM also supports the mass mobilization call to action “Lights for Liberty," a vigil to End Human Concentration Camps, that will bring thousands of people to locations worldwide as well as to concentration camps across country, into the streets and into their own front yards, to protest the inhumane conditions faced by migrants. In New York City, citizens will stand outside of the Foley Square Detention Camp at 7PM so the children can hear us supporting their release and demanding justice.
Learn more about how you can support Lights for Liberty at https://www.lightsforliberty.org/