ORLEANS – With a backdrop of downtown traffic and many drivers beeping their horns in support, a group of about 120 protesters gathered on the Orleans Town Green last Friday afternoon to express their concerns over the current immigration policies and practices of the United States and the treatment of immigrant families, especially children, on its southern border.
This was one of 15 “Lights for Liberty Vigils” scheduled to be held in towns across the Cape and islands on July 12, part of a national mobilization for change. Local sponsorship included 25 religious, immigrant, and political action organizations, some with a long history of advocacy for reforms to local and national immigration policies, including the establishment of “safe communities.”
Participants began to arrive at the Town Green located at the intersection of Main Street and Route 28 about 4 p.m. carrying signs expressing their particular concerns following reports of children being separated from their parents, unhealthy conditions in detention centers, and the planned Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrest and deportation of 2,000 undocumented immigrants. They lined up around the corner, waving and responding to drivers who indicated their support.
At about 4:30 p.m. the formal program began with two folk songs by Denya Levine and a chant written by her Wellfleet friend Harriet Koring. The Rev. Rod MacDonald, chair of the Refugee Support Team of the Nauset Interfaith Association, then welcomed those attending before introducing the Rev. Ken Campbell, convener of the NIA, the first of the event’s three speakers.
Campbell spoke of the importance of a commitment to the struggle for the fair and just treatment of those seeking to come to the United States, referencing both the well-known poem of John Donne that celebrates the universal human bond “For Whom The Bell Tolls,” and the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King envisioning a “Beloved Community as a society based on justice, equal opportunity, and love of one’s fellow human beings.”
Levine then led the crowd in a rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” before MacDonald introduced the second speaker, Jennifer Smith, the director of the Community Health Partnership of Honduras, who shared details on the desperate situation in that and other central American countries that many seeking to enter the United States are trying to escape. Now a volunteer along with her husband, she said that most of the doctors and medical personnel who work with her organization do so without compensation as there are no funds available to pay them. Their clients work 12-hour shifts at dumps in order to obtain the bare necessities of food, water, and shelter. Their conditions are the result of gangs that originated in Los Angeles but now have taken control of the society and economy of Honduras and its neighboring countries. That, along with government corruption and political instability, have created an environment of exploitation and abuse with no realistic alternatives. The United States bears some of the responsibility for the development and continuation of these conditions over the past quarter century, said Smith.
Levine next offered a song by Pete Seeger before MacDonald introduced the third and final speaker, Tom Ryan, chair of the Migrant and Refugee Committee of the Cape Cod Council of Churches. Ryan led the group through a litany with the response “Liberty and Justice for All,” initially focused on the rejection by the United States government of the United Nations Global Compact on Migration based on a belief that its principles regarding children and families are inconsistent with the policies of this country.
Following Ryan’s talk the group was invited to spend a period of time in silent reflection on their experience and all they had heard before Levin led the participants in “My Country Tis of Thee.”
Throughout the vigil, which ended at 5:30 p.m., a table was set up offering additional information on the issue and the vigil’s sponsors, as well as ways for the participants to continue advocating for a change in the immigration policies of the United States. This included a list prepared by the Rev. Christian Holleck of Saint Peter’s Lutheran Church in Harwich based on his recent period embedded in the Texas-Mexican area, interacting with immigrants on both sides of the border as well as with an immigration judge and U.S. border officials, about which he spoke and The Chronicle reported recently. Those participating also donated $254 to Annunciation House in El Paso, Texas, which has been “accompanying the migrant, homeless, and vulnerable peoples of the border since 1978.”