Rally on Green protests ICE and detention camps

by Elizabeth Janowski | 7/19/19 2:00am

Following reports of inhumane conditions within immigration detention camps along the southern U.S. border that detailed children being subjected to overcrowding, poor sanitation and inadequate access to food and medical care, Hanover joined 700 cities nationwide to host a “Lights for Liberty” protest last Friday evening. Nearly 300 Dartmouth students, faculty members and Upper Valley residents assembled on the Green to take part in the rally, which included speeches from local activists, musical performances and a candlelight vigil. 

The rallies additionally protested the Trump administration’s announcement last week that Immigration and Customs Enforcement would launch a series of federal raids last weekend, with the goal of targeting and arresting approximately 2,000 undocumented immigrants. According to several news reports, these raids did not occur on the days promised by the Trump administration. 

English professor Alexis Jetter and First Congregational Church of Thetford refugee support team chair Sherry Merrick organized the Hanover protest, with its sponsors including the Dartmouth Latin American, Latino and Caribbean Studies program, Coalition for Immigration Reform and Equality at Dartmouth, the First Congregational Church of Thetford and the United Valley Interfaith Project.

Shortly before 7 p.m., protestors began gathering on the Green with banners containing phrases such as “Close the Camps Now,” “VT for Cage-Free Children” and “No Tent Prisons for Kids Seeking Asylum.” One demonstrator brought a cage constructed out of papier-mâché, which she sat in for the duration of the rally. 

Jetter said at the protest that various groups within the Upper Valley actively opposed ICE well before the idea of organizing the protest materialized. Namely, she referenced efforts by Upper Valley activists from the United Valley Interfaith Project, Migrant Justice and other organizations to distribute informational pamphlets at train stations, hold teach-ins and forums and coordinate response teams to assist undocumented immigrants who have been detained by ICE. 

“This didn’t start out of nothing,” Jetter said in an interview after the protest. “There’s all this anger, all this fear for what’s happening to all these children right now. We have this moment, and we have to do something in this moment.” 

In her opening remarks, Jetter emphasized that while New Hampshire and Vermont may seem far removed from the issues on the America’s southern border, ICE officers are present and active in the Upper Valley. She noted that the national ICE tip-line is based out of Vermont, and the arrest of local immigrant dairy farmers occurs nearly every week. 

“The problem is right here, and the solution is right here,” Jetter said. “It’s our responsibility to be active. We the people are America, and we have to do whatever we can to stop this travesty.”

Many speakers throughout the evening echoed Jetter’s comments, calling attention to the arrests of three immigrant dairy farmworkers — Ubertoni Aguilar-Montero, Mario Diaz-Aguilar, and Ismael Mendez-Lopez — on June 23 at a Walmart in Newport, Vermont. The men are currently incarcerated at the Strafford County Jail in Dover, New Hampshire, where they are facing deportation. Donations to the Vermont Freedom Bail Fund, which seeks to bail out immigrants arrested by ICE, were collected during the rally. Organizers also raised funds for the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, as well as the immigrant and refugee support group of the New Hampshire Conference United Church of Christ.

“This is an issue affecting our neighbors, and we need to start acting like it.”

“This is an issue affecting our neighbors, and we need to start acting like it,” Thetford resident and activist Emma Glazer said in her address to the crowd. She stressed that there are at least as many ICE detention facilities in New Hampshire and Vermont as there are in several larger states.

New Hampshire civil rights lawyer Ken Barnes gave a personal account of the conditions in child detention camps along the southern border, citing experiences from his recent visit to the detention facility in Homestead, FL. 

“We had been told that the guards threatened these children that if they did engage with us witnesses at all, that they would be written up and they would stay longer in the prison,” Barnes said. “We came to bear witness … to bring visibility to these kids, to shine a light on the terrible human rights violations that our country is perpetrating in our names … and with our tax dollars.”

Barnes added that as the 2020 presidential election nears, he hopes more politicians and presidential candidates will visit the camps and take concrete actions to close them.

Several Dartmouth students and activists from the Upper Valley took the stage to express their frustrations with the Trump administration’s immigration policies. Additionally, they encouraged crowd members to attend a town hall meeting with the Hartford Select Board on Tuesday, where they planned to speak out against the collaboration between police officers and ICE.

The night closed with a performance from the Rockapellas as protestors lit candles in solidarity with Lights for Liberty vigils across the country.

While the majority of protestors in attendance were older residents of the Upper Valley, many crowd members expressed gratitude for the participation of younger activists as speakers at the rally.

“It’s very encouraging to have people come together — especially people from multiple generations,” Upper Valley resident Dave Chapman said. “I think this had a great turnout.”

In an interview after the protest, Barnes noted that efforts of Upper Valley activists to speak out against ICE and immigration detention facilities will continue beyond the protest. He encouraged anyone concerned about ICE and the camps at the southern border to be vocal and take action.

“I think the way to do something about this issue is to organize, to talk to each other … to talk to your congresspeople and newspapers,” Barnes said. “I don’t want to stop until I’ve made the point that anybody can do this.”