Protesters line Arlington Heights road over migrant conditions near U.S.-Mexico border
Protesters gathered near the downtown Arlington Heights train station Friday night to demonstrate against the conditions in migrant detention centers along the U.S. border.
The "Lights for Liberty" street-corner rally was part of a series of events held nationwide and in such suburbs as Downers Grove, Elgin, Elmhurst, Glen Ellyn and Naperville. The crowd, which easily exceeded 100 people, stood on the grassy area between the Union Pacific tracks and Northwest Highway from Arlington Heights Road to Evergreen Avenue.
People lifted signs and banners bearing such messages as "KIDS DON'T BELONG IN CAGES" and "SEEKING ASYLUM IS NOT A CRIME." The crowd was greeted largely with honks of support from passing vehicles, although one passerby yelled support for President Donald Trump.
Some of the signs incorporated images of the Statue of Liberty and the words used on the statue. Randy Longstreet of Arlington Heights held a sign that juxtaposed the statue and the words "Bring me your tired, your poor" with a drawing depicting the father and daughter who drowned at the border.
"To me, America has always been a beacon of hope and chance," said Longstreet, a descendant of an Irish grandmother and African American slaves. He said of his sign, "It's an indictment of this current administration, the lengths of depravity that they are willing to go to to push their agenda at the cost of human lives."
Trump administration officials have defended conditions at U.S. Border Patrol stations after reports of crowded and unsanitary conditions. Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan said that since the first of the year, 200 medical providers have been added to facilities, including personnel from the U.S. Coast Guard and Public Health Service Commission Corps.
Just this week, a former oil field worker camp in rural Texas became the government's newest holding center for detaining migrant children after they leave Border Patrol stations. Long trailers once used to house workers in two-bedroom suites have been converted into 12-person dorms with two pairs of bunk beds in each bedroom and the living room. The Department of Health and Human Services said about 225 children are being held at the site in Carrizo Springs, with plans to expand to as many as 1,300, making it one of the biggest camps in the U.S. government system to help provide capacity.
The Arlington Heights event was organized by Mount Prospect resident Erika Burch, who has led similar street corner protests in her village.
She said she feels she is making a difference.
"What started off with just me holding a sign came to many friendships being made, other protests being started, lots of encouragement, lots of comfort knowing that there are other people," Burch said.
Speakers included Father Corey Brost of Viator House of Hospitality, which offers services such as housing, food and referrals to young men seeking asylum.
"As Dr. King said, the arc of history is long, but it's bent towards justice. But it only bends towards justice when people of faith, people of good heart bend it. And you are, we are bending it tonight," Brost said. "And we will continue to bend it until our sisters and brothers who are migrating are being treated as the humans that they are and their rights are being respected."
State Sen. Ann Gillespie also spoke out, lashing out at the federal government.
"This is a matter of a policy embedded in deliberate cruelty," she said. "That's what our federal government is doing in our name."
She also said she is proud of developments in Illinois, where the General Assembly voted to ban private detention centers in the state. She added that Gov. Pritzker signed an executive order saying Illinois is a state that welcomes immigrants, and she praised Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot for making it clear that the Chicago police force will not be used as agents of ICE.