As she stood at a candlelight vigil in Greensburg on Friday to protest the treatment of immigrants in detention centers along the Mexican border, Sister Colette Hanlon recalled seeing federal agents dropping off busloads of exhausted parents and young children at the pastoral center in El Paso, Texas, where the immigrants got to bathe, eat and get clean clothing.
“They were so frightened when they would get here. Some of them came from those cages,” the kind that are seen in photos of people crammed into fenced-in detention centers, said Hanlon, a member of the Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill of Greensburg, who helped the immigrants at the Catholic center in November and December.
Hanlon joined more than 200 people who lined both sidewalks of the North Main Street bridge for more than an hour, holding signs and yelling slogans opposing the Trump administration’s detention camps for immigrants who had illegally crossed the border with Mexico.
“Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Detention Camps,” was organized by Voices of Westmoreland, a community activist organization. It was part of a chain of nationwide protests to draw attention to the poor treatment of children and how they are being separated from their families, said Clare Dooley of Latrobe, a co-founder of Voices of Westmoreland.
“People all over the world are outraged at how the United States government is treating the refugees, particularly children,” Dooley said. “I believe they (Trump administration) are interested in exploiting them for political gain.”
Sister Hyeon Lee, another member of the Sisters of Charity, said the children who were brought to the pastoral center in El Paso this May were “fear-stricken.” After they were there a few days, “they were interacting with us and they opened up.
“I really want to help them,” Lee said. “That is the only thought you can have.”
Another protester, Anne Rubio of El Paso, who was visiting her sister, Sister Mary Elizabeth of the Sisters of Charity, said she was protesting because “we want the cages to be closed.”
“It is very painful for us that children are being kept in such dire conditions in our hometown,” Rubio said. “We want the cages (detention fences) to be closed.”
“We’re peacefully protesting what we believe is wrong. Children should be with their parents,” and not separated from them, said Mary Kaufman of Scottdale, who were joined by two friends, Becky King of Scottdale and Mary Beth Klein of Jeannette.
Raids to start Sunday
The candlelight vigil was held just two days before what President Trump has promised will be a series of raids that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents will launch on Sunday to capture and then deport about 2,200 immigrant families under court order to leave the country.
A spokesman for ICE’s Pittsburgh office could not be reached for comment Friday on whether some raids would be conducted in Pittsburgh.
Rather than conducting raids on immigrant families, “ICE should prioritize deporting undocumented individuals who’ve been involved in violent crimes, not working families who pose no threat to our nation,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Swissavle, said in a statement.
While opposing Trump administration policies that treat immigrants harshly, Doyle said he will continue to work to enact reforms that fix the broken immigration system, give so-called “Dreamers” a path to citizenship, and “once again welcome refugees, asylum seekers, and other immigrants to the United States.”
“Pittsburgh has always been a city of immigrants,” Doyle said. “This great city was built by immigrants, and it’s been made better by every new generation of immigrants.”
U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Washington County, whose congressional district represents part of Westmoreland County, has been a strong supporter of Trump’s policies to secure the border with Mexico to stem the tide of illegal immigration, human trafficking, and deadly drugs from entering the country.
Reschenthaler could not be reached for comment Friday.