Activists and community members July 12 banded together at the Hays County Courthouse to call for an end to inhumane conditions reported at several immigration detention facilities along the border.
Those who joined in on the vigil also prayed, protested and condemned controversial efforts by the U.S. government toward migrants in what some local leaders are calling concentration camps.
Hosted by local immigration activists and criminal justice reform group Mano Amiga, the vigil was held in light of purported Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids this past weekend. In Texas, these raids were expected to occur in major cities across the state.
Tomas Diaz de Leon, an organizer with Mano Amiga, said Hays County residents should stay engaged and vigilant to bring awareness to the crisis at the immigration centers.
Diaz de Leon said facilities like the South Texas Detention Center in Pearsall and the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor are not being challenged, especially considering both facilities are within 100 miles of Hays County.
“It’s time to map out how those assembled here can be part of the movement and regular active opposition to these camps,” Diaz de Leon said.
Diaz de Leon reminded the attendees of the rights immigrants have here in the United States as the ICE raids are expected to begin.
“ICE cannot enter your home without a signed warrant by a criminal court judge,” he said. “You don’t have to open your door for them. You do not need to speak to ICE agents. You can ‘plead the fifth’ and choose to remain silent.”
Diaz de Leon said residents do not need to sign any paperwork from the agency without consulting an attorney.
The vigil ended with an emotional candle lighting ceremony as the sun disappeared into the night sky over the courthouse.
Singing songs like Amazing Grace, attendees lit each other’s candles and joined hand in hand. The passing and spreading of fire was a symbolic gesture to keep growing and spreading the light, a common theme of the event.
For Rev. Helen Boursier, who has spent countless hours with refugees at the Karnes detention center since 2014, joining the vigil was necessary as the experiences have shifted her own views on the issue.
“They (refugees) read the same Bible we read; they believe in the same God that we read about; they believe that God does have a hope and a future for them,” Boursier said. “And so they come. They also believe the United States is a nation of justice …”
Bouriser said mothers have told her they believe the United States is a place where the leaders fight for the people.
“When the leaders to do not fight for the people, the people need to fight for the people,” Boursier said.