Some sang, some prayed, and others wept Friday night in downtown Sonora’s Courthouse Square while protesting the reportedly poor conditions at immigrant detention centers in the southern United States.
About 65 people, including men, women and children, joined thousands of others in more than 700 cities across five continents for candlelight vigils dubbed “Lights for Liberty” organized by the left-wing group Indivisible.
“None of them had any personal connection to these children but felt this was a tragedy,” said Elizabeth Harper, a Sonora activist and member of Tuolumne County Indivisible.
Reports of shoddy living conditions and inhumane practices at the facilities have made headlines in recent months as President Donald Trump’s administration attempts to crack down on illegal immigration.
Asylum seekers are also among those who have reportedly been held at the facilities. Several children have died over the past year in the custody of federal immigration agents.
“Seeking asylum is a human right. We have it under our Constitution,” said Mary Anne Schmidt, a local political organizer who promoted and attended the event Friday. “When you think about it, why would someone want to be a refugee? They’re coming here out of desperation, and we’re a country that has accepted immigrants for over 100 years.”
Schmidt said several people spoke at the event, including Daska Babcock, a Sonora-based immigration attorney who works mostly with asylum seekers from Central America.
Babcock said some of her clients are living in Tuolumne County. She manages the Stockton office for her law firm, which is based in Berkeley.
“Most of my work is asylum related,” she said.
Seeking asylum is a right protected by international law, which Babcock said is an even higher level than rights protected under the U.S. Constitution.
Babcock said she’s seen a shift in the attitude toward asylum seekers under the Trump administration, particularly from newly trained immigration officers and newly appointed judges.
There have also been a number of procedural changes that make it harder for asylum seekers to prepare their cases.
“One of those is giving them less time to do so and making it harder for them to obtain work permits, which makes it harder for them to support themselves and pay attorneys,” she explained.
One of Babcock’s clients from Central America was previously held at a detention center in Florence, Arizona.
Babcock said she wasn’t allowed to see much of the facility, but he told her that he wasn’t being given enough to eat and was paid $1 per eight-hour shift working in the facility’s laundry area at night.
“I was very pleased that there were several members of the community who came forward and offered to help in tangible ways,” she said. “People willing to offer rides, or work with ATCAA and the services they provide.”
Many of the people seeking asylum are reportedly fleeing from violence in Central American countries and Mexico.
Babcock believes the current animosity toward immigrants permeating the U.S. is based on fear that’s unfounded. She asylum seekers are peaceful, hardworking and don’t mean to cause anyone harm.
“I think many people understand that … the balance is tipping toward a more world-embracing view, but we need to keep moving towards that,” she said. “There are opportunities to do that right here in our community because we do have families who have been impacted by the high levels of violence in Central America and Mexico, right here in Tuolumne County.”
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.