(Ed. note — This report on the Light for Liberty protest is continued from Friday, June 28th’s paper.)
“We will gather to shine a light and raise our voices against the horrific human rights abuses committed against migrants in US human detention camps. We welcome the attendance of all who share our commitment to seeing these people treated with basic dignity and concern for their physical and psychological well-being.”
That’s what lifelong South Dakotan and recent activist Marie Schwab Miller wrote on her Facebook page last week. She was urging fellow South Dakotans to join her at the “Lights for Liberty” protest in Aberdeen on July 12, starting at 6 p.m. in Anderson Park.
The demonstration in Aberdeen will be only one arm of what is planned as a national day of protest against the inhumane treatment of people currently detained in camps along the U.S. — Mexican border.
Opinions on what the camps should be varies wildly even among their critics, a fact that Miller acknowledged. A quick trawl of most Twitter or Facebook discussions on the topic reveals that many moderates simply want to reform the camps; improve conditions for those residing in them and streamline the immigration/asylum process so that people spend as little time in them as possible.
More radical voices want to do away with the camps entirely, with a growing number of leftists arguing for open borders. One thing that unites these disparate opinions is disdain for the camps’ current status quo, especially regarding children.
“I don’t think children should be locked up,” Miller said. “I can’t imagine how anyone could think this is okay.”
There are people that do think this is okay, said Miller, and Miller said she and other July 12 protesters would be prepared for them.
“It’s always possible we’ll get backlash,” she said. “Last year it was mostly fine, except some people who rolled down their car windows to shout at us… The volume’s been turned up on everything politically since last year, so we may get some trolls there.”
Some people Miller said she would like to see on July 12, besides fellow protesters, are South Dakota’s Republican lawmakers and officials: U.S. House Representative Dusty Johnson, Senators John Thune and Mike Rounds, and Governor Kristi Noem. All four of them have, in some way or another, come out in support of stronger border security. In some cases, physically; in the form of advocating for more walls and border checkpoints. In other cases, bureaucratically; by voting to fund or otherwise empower groups like Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs & Border Protection (CBP).
With reports emerging seemingly every day of immigrants and asylum seekers — especially children — suffering abuse at the border at the hands of these organizations, Miller said she wants South Dakota politicians to explain their positions to their constituents. “Something I think is very difficult is standing up in front of people and explaining why this is okay,” she said. “It’s hard to do and so I think a lot of them just don’t… If they have anything to say to defend this, I’d love to hear it.”
The Capital Journal sent inquiries to all four officials asking if they planned to attend the Aberdeen event. By press time on June 27, the offices of Rep. Johnson and Sen. Thune replied, saying that they had no announcements for scheduling at the time, but that the Capital Journal should check back closer to July 12. The governor’s office sent back a message saying only that the governor had not been invited to the event. Sen. Rounds’ office acknowledged they received the inquiry, but did say whether he would attend.
To their credit, the South Dakota Republicans did acknowledge the border humanitarian crisis last week in Washington D.C.
On Wednesday, June 26, the Senate, of which Thune is the GOP whip, passed a bill which they claimed addressed the worst conditions at the border. The bill had bipartisan support and delivers billions of dollars to the military and to immigration authorities like ICE and CBP, ostensibly to pay for essentials like medical care and transportation for those detained at border facilities. However, it contained no measures to end reported family separation, specifically protect detained children, or limit the amount of time children can be detained.
Progressive Democrats in the House balked at the bill for these reasons, and because it delivered over a billion dollars to CBP and ICE via the Department of Homeland Security — the same organizations which critics claim are responsible for the worst humanitarian offenses. Nevertheless, the bill passed on Thursday, June 27.
Without the protections the House Progressives wanted to add to the bill, it is unclear what effect it will have on the situation at the border, if it receives President Trump’s signature.
In a tweet sent out shortly before 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, House progressive Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said, “This Senate Bill will have us write a $4.6 Billion blank check (incl military $) for the border w/ NO accountability — just a verbal pinky promise.”
Regardless of D.C. machinations, Miller and the other Americans who will join in the “Lights for Liberty” demonstration across the country on July 12, believe that the fight for the equitable treatment of immigrants, asylum seekers and their children is not over. Miller said she hopes “many people will attend” the Aberdeen demonstration. “We’re back at it again, and we’ll keep doing it until the government stops mistreating these children,” she said.