BISBEE — More than 150 people crowded into a tiny park in Old Bisbee Friday evening to protest the treatment of migrant children at border detainee centers, one of 600 demonstrations around the world aimed at shining a light on the crisis.
Bisbee’s effort was organized by retired teacher Tami Birch, in conjunction with St. John’s Episcopal Church. Another demonstration occurred simultaneously in Naco on the border, Birch said.
In keeping with the movement Lights For Liberty, those attending the Bisbee demonstration each carried a small candle that was lit at 9 p.m. in solidarity with similar events worldwide, Birch said. Protesters gathered at the Grassy Park on Tombstone Canyon, then walked to St. John’s where there were speakers and live music.
Before the march, Birch’s husband Chris Dietz read “The New Colossus,” the classic sonnet written by American poet Emma Lazarus that is inscribed on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.
Many people carried small homemade signs decrying the treatment of migrants. The placards echoed daily headlines that focus on miserable conditions at the detainee centers where migrants have complained of sweltering, overcrowded facilities that they say lack the most basic of necessities.
Conditions at a detainee camp in Yuma have especially sparked an outcry after migrants have complained of not being able to shower, brush their teeth, or even go to the bathroom in privacy. Many also have complained that there is a lack of bedding.
Earlier this week, Arizona State Representative Ann Kirkpatrick sent a letter to the directors of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security, expressing concern for what she called “alarming conditions at your detention centers.” Kirkpatrick’s missive focuses on Yuma and she stated that she supports an investigation into the deteriorating conditions at the detention facilities there.
On Friday, Vice President Mike Pence also said conditions in federal detention facilities are “unacceptable” after touring a pair in Texas.
There have also been issues of harassment of migrants at a church-run migrant shelter in Agua Prieta, said Rev. Rosa Brown of St. John’s. Brown said her church is part of the effort at the Agua Prieta church migrant shelter.
Brown, also in charge of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Douglas, said the families she talks with at the shelter in Agua Prieta are all fleeing untenable situations in their home countries.
Brown said events such as the ones in Bisbee, Naco and others around the world on Friday evening, are paramount.
“It creates conscience and we speak up for those who do not have a voice right now,” she said.
Several Bisbee demonstrators said that’s why they wanted to participate in Friday’s march.
“It’s inhumane,” said Jo Ann Caruthers of Sierra Vista regarding the conditions at the border detainee camps.
A friend of Caruthers’ who carried a sign that read, “Asylum seekers (refugees) are not criminals,” agreed.
“There is a humanitarian crisis and it’s not being dealt with properly,” said Heather Borman of St. David. Borman, who started a Facebook page called Indivisible Cochise County, called the entire detainee process “corrupt.”
Bisbee resident Maggie Strate went to the demonstration with her 10-year-old daughter Samara. She said the youngster has been asking her why migrant children are being kept in detention centers.
“She doesn’t like what’s happening,” Strate said of her daughter. “It’s hard for me to get it also, and it’s hard for me to explain it to her. She told me she wants to donate some of her toys to the kids.”
Both Brown and Birch spoke briefly to protesters once they were assembled in the Fellowship Hall at St. John’s on Sowles Avenue. Birch, who is also vice president of the Mule Mountains Democratic Club, said she organized the protest because the plight of migrants has to be kept front and center.
“We have a lot of problems in our country and we have to speak from the heart, said the 70-year-old Birch. “We’re here because we are human.”