GLENS FALLS — With dueling chants of “immigrants are welcome here” and “build that wall,” a group of protesters and counterprotesters squared off in front of U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik’s office on Thursday, in a raucous, but mostly civil, demonstration.
Six people were arrested for misdemeanor criminal trespass for refusing to leave the office building, according to Glens Falls Police Lt. Peter Casertino. They were issued appearance tickets.
The event began at City Park at noon as about 50 people from the Saratoga Peace Alliance, the Saratoga Immigration Coalition and the Southern Adirondack branch of the Democratic Socialists of America called for immigrant detention camps to be closed.
Diana Barnes, professor of world languages at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, said she has visited the U.S-Mexico border towns and found conditions at a detention center to be deplorable, with cramped conditions and mistreatment by guards.
“They are a physical manifestation of our country at its worst,” she said.
Barnes said people have the power to shut down these camps. After constant protests and vigils at the Tornillo detention center in Texas, it closed. She said that people should lobby their elected representatives to come down to these facilities and see for themselves.
Barnes also read the names of the victims killed in the El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, shootings followed by a moment of silence.
She criticized President Donald Trump for his hateful language, which she said gave rise to the 21-year-old man who shot and killed 22 people in El Paso.
“People feel emboldened to say very racist things because the president is saying them,” she said.
After about an hour of remarks interspersed with songs led by Ben Grosscup of People’s Music Network, the group marched from City Park to Maple Street, then to Bay Street, Glen Street and through Centennial Circle onto Warren Street and Stefanik’s office.
About a week before the event, the group delivered a letter to Stefanik’s office demanding that immigrants that arrive in this country should not be incarcerated or separated for even a few days. Also, the groups recommended that a task force be established to reunite children with their parents.
Paul Hancock, chairman of the Southern Adirondack Democratic Socialists of America, said the group met with a representative of Stefanik’s office, who listened to their concerns.
Hancock said one idea is to decriminalize unauthorized border crossings, so children would not be separated from their families. A Trump supporter was also in with him but did not speak.
Stefanik spokeswoman Maddie Anderson referred questions to Stefanik campaign spokesman Lenny Alcivar, who did not offer a statement from the congresswoman herself regarding this issue. The Post-Star has a policy of only quoting the congresswoman’s own words and not those of spokespersons.
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Elena Reynolds, of Voorheesville, said she planned to get arrested because the group wanted to “make a statement” with the hopes of getting Stefanik to do more than she’s done.
Rozara Sanders came all the way from Delmar to show her support for immigrants.
“I think there’s a lot of strength in numbers. I like to come to these sort of things to educate myself,” she said.
Sanders said policymakers should go down to the border to see the situation firsthand.
Agata Stanford, of Glens Falls, said she was not going to be bullied by Trump supporters, who she says have harassed her on Facebook and made threats at rallies.
Stanford said the situation at the border is a human rights issue. Children need to be protected.
Peter Warren of Albany, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, said immigrants should be treated with the same respect that our ancestors were when they came to the Statue of Liberty, and he called the camps a “cruel, ... inhumane and unbearable situation.”
The protesters were joined by a group of about 25 counterprotesters organized by American Patriots Express, including Colleen Longo, of South Glens Falls, who said she wanted to come to counterprotest to show her support for the president and his immigration policies.
“They should build a wall. (Democrats) wanted the wall 10 years ago. Now all of a sudden, they don’t. It doesn’t make any sense,” she said.
Ernie Dashaw, of South Glens Falls, said he came out to support the president.
“He’s the only one that loves America,” he said.
Greenwich resident Karen Gates said the country needs to build a wall and immigrants need to seek asylum in the first country in which they arrive, in this case, Mexico.
“If we don’t have borders, we don’t have a country,” she said.
Gates said it was an enjoyable event.
“I think it’s good to have an exchange of ideas,” she said.