H-F area residents at Lights for Liberty vigil in Homewood lament immigrant treatment

  Lia Oldaker welcomes participants to a Lights for Liberty 
  vigil Friday evening in Irwin Park.
(Eric Crump/H-F 

In response to reports of migrants being held in poor conditions and children being separated from parents at the U.S. southern border, three local activist organizations held a vigil in Homewood on Friday, July 12, to rally support and send a message to politicians.

The event at 6 p.m. in Irwin Park in Homewood was sponsored by Action for a Better Tomorrow South Suburbs, Indivisible South Suburbs Chapter and Dems on the Move. It was among hundreds of vigils planned in about 700 communities around the world.

ABT secretary Lia Oldaker made opening remarks, welcoming the crowd and offering the message the event was intended to send.

  Holly Fingerle, left, and 
  Margaret Hagerman lead
  the singing of "This Land 
  is Your Land" during the 
  Lights for Liberty vigil. 

  (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

"This is a vigil to end human detention camps," she said. "The Lights for Liberty mission is freedom and the fundamental principle behind democracy, which is that all human beings have a right to life, liberty and dignity." 

She read accounts from child detainees, who described how they felt about being separated from family members and living in cramped, uncomfortable, unsafe conditions. 

"These are babies, children and families seeking refuge, legal asylum, safety and a better life," she said. "Instead, they are encountering abuse, neglect, sexual assault and even death. We know we cannot be silent as these events unfold. We must take a stand together."

Following the vigil, some of the people at the Homewood event traveled to Kankakee to join a vigil at the Jerome Combs Detention Center, where immigrants detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are being confined. Kankakee County Sheriff's Office has had an agreement with ICE since late 2016 to house immigrant detainees, according to the Kankakee Daily Journal.

ABT co-founder Annie Lawrence said increasing awareness of ICE detentions in a nearby community might have helped galvanize local action. 

"This is a problem that a lot of communities see as 'not my problem.' But it is. I think a lot of people when they realized something was happening in their backyard were like, 'I better be there.' I'm really proud of our community for coming."

As participants held candles, four speakers made remarks, including Rabbi Scott Saulson, Temple Anshe Shalom in Olympia Fields; Pastor Fred Lyon, Flossmoor Community Church; Lorena Verela, founder and director of Communidad En Accion De IL; and the Rev. Jeremy Froyen, Episcopal Church of St. John in Flossmoor.

Following the speakers, Margaret Hagerman of Flossmoor and Holly Fingerle of Olympia Fields led the crowd in singing "This Land is Your Land," a 1940 protest song by Woody Guthrie.

Some of those in attendance said they came because they needed a way to express their frustration and abhorrence at the treatment of immigrant detainees.

Tim Kulak of Tinley Park said he wanted to send a message to Congress, which he believes has been thwarted by obstructionist members in its efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

"What are you going to do, remove the plaque on the Statue of Liberty?" he said, referring to a portion of the poem, "The New Colossus" by Emma Lazarus that is inscribed on the statue in New York, including the words, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free."

"That's become a lie," Kulak said. "We do not welcome people."

Elisha O'Shea of Flossmoor said she was glad to see the vigil take place, but she was cautious about how effective it would be in changing the situation. 

"It's a beautiful gathering, but I was struck by the fact that we were here a year ago for the same thing," she said. "I hope we can hold on to the optimism and create change for the future. Gatherings like this are important as a part of activitism."

For ABT leader Danielle Nolan-Ragland, the event was made especially poignant by the fact that it took place a few yards from a playground, where the sounds of children playing provided the background to the speeches and song. 

"The thing that struck me about this was the juxtaposition of having a playground right there. My son is hanging out with his grandmother. I could see him running around," she said, adding that her situation provided a sharp relief to what immigrant families are facing. "I can't imagine not knowing if he's OK or knowing he's not and no one will help us."


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