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Protest denounces border detention camps

 New Mexico Dream Team member Felipe Rodriguez addresses a group of protesters at the Close The Camps rally, part of a nationwide event, in Albuquerque on Tuesday. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

New Mexico Dream Team member Felipe Rodriguez addresses a group of protesters at the Close The Camps rally, part of a nationwide event, in Albuquerque on Tuesday. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Several hundred people came together in Downtown Albuquerque on Tuesday — along with protesters in cities across the nation — in a rally against the detention of asylum-seeking migrants at the Mexican border.

The Close The Camps demonstration was part of a movement to bring an end to what protesters call “concentration camps.” Similar protests took place in cities including San Francisco, New York and Chicago.

“Let’s make sure that everyone knows it is unacceptable to have concentration camps and it is unacceptable to jail immigrants,” yelled a member of the New Mexico Dream Team over a megaphone as the rally started.

Homemade signs carried by men, women and children chanting “Close the camps!” resembled a mosaic of neon poster board across the corners of Fourth and Gold and flowed into the group from side streets.

The Dream Team and the American Friends Service Committee organized the event locally, and lawyers, activists and human rights groups gathered to show their support.

Members of the group El Centro de Igualdad y Derechos wore T-shirts and passed out signs with slogans such as “Not one $ for family detention centers,” and “Make Racism Wrong Again.”

“We are here to ensure that our community knows that we are fighting back, to hold our elected officials accountable to ensure that they represent their communities,” said Marian Mendez-Cera, a civil rights and worker justice organizer with El Centro. She came to the U.S. illegally in 2005 and became in 2012 a beneficiary of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which she said brought some relief but “wasn’t enough.”

“As we continue to hear more about (President) Trump’s ideas to further implement his deportation machine, we know that our communities will be fighting back,” Mendez-Cera said. “We will not stay silent, we will stay resistant to ensure that we as migrants that are coming into this country are respected, are treated with dignity, and that we have the same chance at liberty as anyone else. This country stands for liberty for all, right?”

She said she wants her community’s congressional representatives to see that their constituents are taking a stand.

As the midday heat intensified and the crowd size swelled, so did emotions.

Stan Serafin, a substitute teacher for schools in the South Valley, was sporting a T-shirt that read “I can’t believe I’m still fighting for this (expletive)” and carrying a homemade sign.

He walked up to a group of children and told them how excited he was to see them chanting along and holding their own signs.

“I went to the grocery store a few days ago, and I saw a mother, a Hispanic woman, and her 10-year-old son, holding hands, and I started crying right there,” he said. “I think of them, you know, going into Albertsons, and then I think about those people who have traveled about a thousand miles, and then to get separated and put into these (camps).”

Serafin said he’s seen many protests at which politicians speak, “get their ya-ya’s out” and go back to do nothing.

“Why do we have to protest all the things that are wrong?” he asked. “We’ve got to protest every other year about something. I’m a negative person, honestly, but I don’t think this is going to change anything.”

Serafin said he hopes people will vote, because that’s where change starts.

People on their lunch breaks walking among buildings Downtown tried to maneuver around the crowd, which was starting to pour off the sidewalks and into the streets. Some stopped to read signs and take pictures, and others grunted and said to those on the edge of the group, “Thanks for blocking the sidewalk.”

Laurel LeGate stood with her two daughters, ages 5 and 9, who were pressing themselves against a building in a patch of shade.

“I just look at them every day and I realize that there are families that don’t know where their babies are,” she said, holding back tears. “It is just hard to be a parent and know that there are children suffering, and it is in our government’s name.”

No matter how you look at it, LeGate said, there is no excuse to be anti-immigrant, because even if someone points to economic reasons to keep people in camps, it all boils down to racism.

Her daughters appeared to be bored and tired of standing in the heat, but she said she wanted them to be there.

“I told them there are children standing in cages right now that are bored, and they don’t have toys, they don’t have anything to do, they don’t know where their parents are, so we can stand here and be uncomfortable for half an hour,” she said.