BURLINGTON — As part of a broader Democratic Party gambit to recast immigration enforcement at the U.S. southern border as Nazi-like, the Vermont Peace and Justice Center held a “Close the Camps/Stop the Deportations” protest on Tuesday afternoon on Church Street.
More than a hundred locals attended and marched from Sen. Bernie Sanders’ office to Sen. Patrick Leahy’s office, delivering letters regarding conditions at immigration detainment centers between Mexico and the United States.
Kina Thorp, an activist for the Vermont Peace and Justice Center, was among the first to speak.
“We are in the midst of a full-scale humanitarian crisis on our southern border created by the Trump Administration,” she said. “He’s arrested tens of thousands of refugees and immigrants, keeping them in what Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez rightly called concentration camps.”
Thorp said thousands of children are being held in “horrific conditions,” and that separating kids from families at the border “could create an epidemic of health problems.”
Former Gov. Madeleine Kunin, the most well-known speaker at the event, tried to pull on heartstrings to convince the audience that immigration enforcement is unusual and cruel.
“[It’s hard] when you see mothers having to say goodbye to their children and not knowing where or when they will see them again,” she said. “… Can you imagine how you would feel or how I would feel to have my child taken away from me at the border? It brings tears to my eyes to think about it.”
Zully Palacios, the third speaker at the protest, spoke in Spanish while a translator interpreted.
“And as we read about what’s happening on the southern border, we must not forget what’s happening here on our northern border,” she said. “Just last week three of our neighbors and community members were detained at a Walmart in Newport, Vermont.”
In fact, numbers from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported in early June included 2,862 total apprehensions near the northern border for fiscal year 2019. About 952 of those are confirmed to have involved immigrants who crossed the border from Canada.
Rachel Siegel, executive director for the Peace and Justice Center, was the main organizer of the event. She told True North that the U.S. should stop border enforcement efforts.
“The answer is to redistribute our funds to support human beings,” she said. ” … No, we don’t make better facilities. If you make better facilities, then you are investing in them and they are more likely to be long-term, and then it’s the same thing that happened in Germany.”
She said, ultimately, there should be no border.
“I believe there should be no border, but that might be a long-term goal. In the meantime, we should at least be hospitable and welcoming,” she said.
She acknowledged the program and facilities predate the Trump administration.
“Absolutely, this has been horrible since Europeans arrived here — we’ve been separating people from their families and we continue to even with incarcerations in Vermont. We have lots … of parents in Vermont prisons and jails who are separated from their kids.”
She said the U.S. needs to stop “imperialist interventions” in South America, which she said have prompted much of these mass migrations in the first place.
“We need to stop structural adjustments, we need to stop training people to be assassins, we need to stop funding military dictatorships,” she said.
Ben Richards, of the nearby town of Georgia, also was participating in the event.
“I’m not an open borders kind of guy, but we need more resources at the border to process people that are asylum seekers or whatever their legal status is. We need to get these people processed,” he said. “Trump cripples all the agencies so they are unable to function.”
President Donald Trump recently signed a bipartisan-supported $4.6 billion border funding bill to alleviate pressure at detention centers, as the daily crossings this year have hit a 13-year high with, at some points, nearly 3,600 illegals arriving a day.
Joseph Sysling, who was at the march near the back of the crowd, had his own opinions. He’s originally from Burlington but now lives in Katy, Texas, where he has seen the detention facilities first-hand.
“We’ve volunteered to help out the children’s side and the adult side. We’ve helped feed them, we play games, we talk to them and give them comfort while they try to figure out their next step,” he said. “These facilities, they are not a Holiday Inn, but they have running water, they have cots, they have rows and rows of porta-potties which are getting cleaned out daily.
“It’s not like a concentration camp like Hitler did to the Jews. They are being taken care of and they are trying to figure out the next move is.”
When some folks asked him how he felt about children being separated from families, Sysling cited reports that DNA testing reveals that about a third of these children don’t share DNA with the alleged family members.
“Texas is one of the largest child-trafficker sex-slave routes in the industry,” he said.