GLENS FALLS — Jenna Nichols, 15, was locked inside a small dog cage on Friday night, her fingers clasping the bars, exactly like the photo attached to her cage of a young girl locked in a detention center at the border.
“I don’t want to grow up in a world where children are in cages,” said Nichols, of Moreau, when she later spoke at the “Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Detention Centers” in downtown Glens Falls. “I don’t want to grow up in a world where children are shot.”
And as hundreds passed their flame from one to the other just before 9 p.m. around Centennial Circle, they joined people gathered in more than 780 locations around the world to shed light on the atrocities being committed in U.S. detention camps on the southern border.
“This is child abuse by our government, with our tax dollars,” said Joe Seeman, a member of the steering committee of Saratoga Progressive Action, the local organizer of Friday night’s event. “It’s horrific to imagine in our country we are putting children in concentration camps.”
Held near Rep. Elise Stefanik’s Glens Falls office, hundreds called on the NY-21 Republican congresswoman to go to the detention centers to witness what is happening.
“We are laying the blame for this right at her feet. It is her obligation to do something,” said Seeman, who is also a member of the state committee of the Working Families party. “If a so-called moderate would reject Trump … If Elise Stefanik would cross the line like Amash, that would be it; she’s got the cards in her hands to change history.”
Recently released documented statements of children incarcerated at several U.S. detention centers detail hauntingly similar accounts of little food, illness, poor sanitation and children detained in cages.
Nonetheless, repeated calls and emails on Friday, asking Rep. Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, about such reported conditions went unanswered.
According to national “Lights for Liberty” organizers, the children’s declarations and eyewitness accounts are the reason for Friday’s worldwide vigils: “At Ursula we are kept in a cage.” “We have not been able to shower.” “The toilet is out in the open in the cage, there is no door for privacy.” “We have not been given a toothbrush or toothpaste to brush our teeth.” “There is no soap to wash our hands.” “I am frightened scared and sad.” “I am hungry.” “They took away our baby’s diapers, baby formula and all of our belongings.” “Then the officers took my dear grandmother away.” “One day the guards demanded to know who had food in the cell.” “Whoever has food will go to prison.”
“The Trump administration’s immigration policies and detention camps meet the United Nations’ definition of genocide and crimes against humanity,” said Elizabeth Cronise McLaughlin, lawyer, activist and organizer. “Congress is refusing to stop the president and his policies. We cannot allow these atrocities to be perpetrated in our name.”
Several attending the Glens Falls vigil said this was the first time they had ever attended such an event.
And as they held their candles high for justice for those imprisoned in the detention centers, some shared their feelings.
“I am here tonight because children and adults are being kept in in inhumane conditions,” said Norah Brennan, Saratoga. “It is not okay.”
And the crowd chanted again and again, “It’s not okay.” “Love, not hate, makes America great.”
There were about 14 Trump supporters at the event, and Mike Kibling of Hudson Falls countered the chants for the children.
“Go buy them diapers if you’re so concerned,” Kibling shouted through a megaphone. ”If you are worried the kids are drinking out of a toilet, buy them a bottle of water.”
A visitor from Brooklyn spoke.
“I am Debra Kushner from Brooklyn, here on vacation,” she said standing on a bench shouting from a megaphone. “Even now I can’t look away from this. You look beautiful because you are speaking the truth. Be louder than the liars across the street. No hate for immigrants. All are welcome here.”
NY-21 Democratic congressional challenger Tedra Cobb, who was speaking at the Saranac Lake vigil on Friday night, said this is not a political issue, but a human one.
“What is currently taking place at the southern border is a humanitarian crisis,” said Cobb. “We must put aside every deflection, every justification and every pointing finger of blame. This is not about political ideology. We must commit to our core value of humanity in the United States of America we treat humans with dignity. I believe we must work to secure our southern border, end the policy of family separation and keep children safe while we work tirelessly to reunite them with their families.”