Protesters demand changes at immigrant detention centers

Jessica Wegg, 36, and son Macs Little, 6, protest at an anti-detention center rally in downtown Indianapolis Tuesday, July 2, 2019, in support of children being held in immigration detention centers. ( Photo)
Victoria Ratliff
Brandon Barger

FRANKLIN, Ind. (Statehouse File) — Calling the treatment of migrant children at the nation’s borders inhumane, protesters urged Indiana members of Congress Tuesday to pressure the Trump administration to free them.

MoveOn, a national public policy advocacy group, organized protests around the country, including in Franklin, Richmond, Crawfordsville and Indianapolis.

In Franklin, at least 30 protesters holding signs such as “Break Bread, Not Families” gathered on the sidewalk in front of the office of Republican U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth as they rallied for immigration reform.

In Indianapolis, protesters gathered on the sidewalks outside the Downtown office of Republican Sen. Todd Young.

The organizer of that event, Chris Smallidge of Action Divisible, said when she started planning Tuesday’s rally yesterday, she didn’t know if many would respond.

“It was just me and this other older lady yesterday. She said, ‘I’ll go if you go.’ “Smallidge recalled.

immigration protest in Indianapolis
Steve Camp, 72, and his wife Faye, 70, protest at an anti-detention center rally in downtown Indianapolis Tuesday, July 2, 2019, in support of children being held in immigration detention centers. ( Photo/LaMonte Richardson)

But when the protest began at noon, the two became 20. After just 15 minutes, the small gathering grew to a crowd of 50. By 1 p.m., the number of Hoosiers at the event ranged around 150.

No matter the location, the message was the same: The inhumane treatment of people seeking asylum has to be stopped.

Margaret McGovern, a former Greenwood mayor and organizer of the Franklin protest, said there are three main points she wants to impress on Hollingsworth: “We want him to close the camps, we want not one more dollar for family detention and deportation ,and we want him to bear witness and reunite families.”

The first thing Hollingsworth needs to do, she said, is to visit a detention center.

“If he can go visit those camps and not feel moved to do something when he gets back, then he’s not who I thought he was,” she said.

Michelle Dahl, who brought her 6 and 7-year-old sons to the protest with her, said she wouldn’t want anyone to treat them the way the children in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody are being treated.

“I hope that he listens to our cries because they’re not listening to these babies’ cries,” she said of Hollingsworth.

immigration protest in Indianapolis
Jerry Rapp holds up a sign alongside another protester at an anti-detention center rally in downtown Indianapolis Tuesday, July 2, 2019, in support of children being held in immigration detention centers. ( Photo/Haley Carney)

Jerry Rapp, a Greenwood resident, said he came to the protest to let Hollingsworth know that the poor treatment of children in ICE detention center is never okay.

“I don’t know how one can call oneself a true Christian if you condone mistreating children,” he said. “I keep questioning myself: What would Jesus do? And I think he would be out here with us.”

Many cars passed the protesters silently. However, there were multiple motorists who honked their horns in support of the protesters’ message.

“I would like for them to call or write Congressman Hollingsworth,” McGovern said, interrupted by honking horns. “I would also like for them to join the next time we have one of these.”

In Indianapolis, Chris Everly,18, Jessica Wegg, 36, and Faye Camp, 70, all of Indianapolis, were among a group that went into the Key Bank building where Young’s office is located to try to take their message directly to the senator. Young, though, was not in the office on this day.

“I’m hoping to get at least the attention of Sen. Todd Young,” Everly explained. “To this point, he has yet to prove himself to be on board with us on this issue and we’re hoping to get him to at least talk to us and have a conversation about what I believe are crimes being committed by the government.”

The issue strikes home for Wegg, who brought her 6-year-old son Macs Little to the rally, because of the way that children are being treated.

“These kids are being kept in deplorable conditions. They just want the same things that we have here. It’s a shame, and these people should be ashamed of themselves,” Wegg said of the government.

Camp, holding a sign that read “Close the Camps,” said that “we’re here because we want to stand with our fellow immigrants, because we are all immigrants.”

Jay Kenworthy, Young’s communication director, said the senator agrees with the people’s sentiment.

“The situation at our southern border is dire. Last week, Sen.Young voted for a bipartisan bill allocating $4.59 billion for humanitarian supplies at the southern border. Additionally, he has voted to secure our borders, end catch and release, provide legal certainty to immigrants already here and keep families together.”

Hollingsworth also was not in his Franklin office at the time of the protest, instead meeting with constituents at his Seymour office.

In a statement, Hollingsworth said: “I always welcome Hoosiers making their voices heard and through many meetings, roundtables and town halls with Hoosiers over the last few months, I have heard concerns about the crisis at the border. This is why I have repeatedly voted for funding services for the safety and health of children, increased law enforcement at the border and reforming our immigration system to stop illegal immigration.”

While the rally was advertised by MoveOn, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said the group had not obtained permits for the protest but had a right to be there. Sgt. Brian Finley, the IMPD Event Planner for Downtown Indianapolis, said police were at the event to make sure the protesters were not clogging the sidewalk.

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