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Bloomington community attends vigil in support of migrants in detention centers


Bloomington residents Susan Schwibz and Roy Sillings light their candles before participating in the "Lights for Liberty" vigil July 12 in front of the Monroe County Courthouse. “You can’t treat people like this,” said Schwibz when talking about human detention centers in the United States. Alex Deryn Buy Photos

Glimmers of candlelight twinkled Friday night on the lawn of the Monroe County Courthouse. But no one said a word.

"Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Detention Camps" took place at 9 p.m. around the world. Bloomington native and incoming IU student Taylor Harmon said she decided two weeks ago she would host an event in Bloomington.

The Bloomington event began at 7 p.m. with the candlelight vigil starting at 9 p.m. Community leaders, students, an immigration lawyer and more spoke in support of ending detention centers.

The centers are used to house adults and children detained while trying to illegally cross the U.S. border as well as undocumented immigrants found in the U.S.

"We want to spread awareness and help all of us who aren't immigrants ourselves to become better allies," Harmon said. 

Harmon's own great-grandfather was an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. She said his journey helped motivate her while planning this event. 

The BBC reported U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee found the Trump administration breached the 1997 Flores vs Reno settlement by not providing migrant children in detention centers appropriate food, hygienic supplies, beds or suitable temperature conditions in July 2017. 

According to the independent nonprofit Center for Immigration Studies, the Flores settlement set precedents for facility conditions and release of immigrant children in government custody.

But Department of Justice lawyer Sarah Fabian said on June 18 the Flores agreement did not contain the words soap or toothbrush, and thus the agreement had not been breached. 

According to an NBC analysis of federal data, 24 immigrants have died in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody since President Donald Trump was inaugurated. 

Director of Community Engagement for Bloomington Mary Catherine Carmichael read a proclamation signed by Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton that declared July 12 “Lights for Liberty Day.” 

"Immigrants in America have shown remarkable fortitude in the ongoing battle for their own rights, making our own country more just and equitable place for all in the process," she said. 

Glenda and Bill Breeden led the group in singing “Circle Round for Freedom.” Breeden said she couldn’t stay home when she knew this event was happening tonight. She said she would like to see the detention centers shut down and the children be reunited with their families.

"We've got plenty," Breeden said. "There's plenty to pass around if it were split more justly."

IU astronomy department senior office services assistant Emily Nehus said she had no intention of speaking at the event. But when Harmon called for guests who wanted to share a few words, Nehus found herself in front of the crowd. 

Nehus said it can be hard to find the mental energy to stay committed against fighting all the bad in the world. Speaking and listening at events like “Lights for Liberty” make it easier to find that energy. 

"We have to be louder," she said.

Harmon said she doesn’t want to see taxpayer dollars used to fund unsafe and unsanitary human detention that often leads to a profit for large companies. The success of the vigil has her even more ready to fight against human detention. 

"There is a lot of strength in this community, and it makes me really happy," Harmon said.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Taylor Harmon's grandfather was an undocumented immigrant. Her great-grandfather was an undocumented immigrant. The IDS regrets this error.

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