LOS ANGELES — Thousands showed up Friday at the Metropolitan Detention Center to protest the deaths of children in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody, conditions in detention centers, and the ongoing threats against immigrants, as locals braced themselves for announced U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids during the weekend. With many protesters wearing aluminum blankets to signal to the conditions children are kept in, the protests, titled “Lights for Life,” were held across the nation. The raids didn’t materialize in the city of Los Angeles, and it is unclear if they will.
State Senator Maria Elena Durazo was one of the first speakers during the demonstration on Friday. Her remarks focused on the conditions immigrants are subjected to, especially detention centers in California where violations have been found.
“If somebody dies in ICE custody, there will be an investigation. Somebody will pay for it, and the California Attorney General will hold them accountable,” Durazo said. She ended her speech by leading the crowd in a chant of “Close them down.”
Rabbi Susan Goldberg, a local leader, spoke about the Jewish community’s struggles, as she lit the Chabbat (Sabbath) candle. “Jewish people are very familiar with what happens when xenophobia and hatred conspire to treat human beings without dignity, and when xenophobia, hatred and fear meet at detention camps and death,” she said. “There are times when there are no words and we have no words, so we have sounds, melodies.” The rabbi went on to sing a melody before the names of children, women and men who have died in detention centers were read out loud.
Emotions ran high. As the evening grew darker, the candles became brighter, and on the tiny windows of the detention center, detainees began to flash lights to let the crowd know that they were watching. Meanwhile, protesters waved their candles and yelled: “No están solos” (You are not alone). The protest was peaceful and only two police officers were present to assist with traffic. No arrests were made.
Towards the end of the demonstration, a choir that had put together an almost last-minute performance was introduced. The choir’s multi-racial members wore white robes and each had an electric candle.
“Sometimes I feel like a motherless child… a long way from home,” the choir sang. Many in the crowd became visibly emotional, and it seemed no one in the protest was without tears. People joined the choir when they started singing “Freedom,” which shifted the mood.
Fear of ICE Raids
On Sunday, many in the immigrant community were in fear, following the threat of large-scale ICE raids. Places that normally would have huge crowds were almost desolate, such as MacArthur Park and Alvarado Street, where many Central American immigrants gather to shop.
“It’s normal that people are afraid to come out. That is why you see so little people out today, but I also blame our governments for not fighting back for our rights,” a woman in her fifties from El Salvador who asked to remain anonymous, told Latino Rebels as she sold pupusas.
“Right now we are in a state of alert, just like when we were in the war in El Salvador and we would be out and about at the market, and when we heard gunshots, we all ran to our homes. That’s how we feel like right now, if we hear the words ‘La Migra’ we would all run,” she added.
The Coalition for Humane Immigration Right’s (CHIRLA) press relations officer Jorge-Mario Cabrera released a statement indicating that no ICE sweeps had been reported in the Los Angeles area.
“There is no doubt in our mind, our community is concerned. But fear will not keep ICE officers away, information, preparation and an organized community will,” the statement read.
On Monday the Trump administration announced it will begin to change the asylum process for migrants. The new rule says that any immigrant that crosses any country en route to the U.S. to apply for asylum will be prohibited, leaving only Mexico and Canada as the only two countries whose citizens are not barred by the new rule. This rule applies to children as well. It also establishes that migrants can apply in any country the first arrive at. The decision is expected to be challenged in courts by immigration advocates.
Francisco Lozano is a freelance news photographer based in Los Angeles. You can follow him @FrancisLozano7.