Nearly 100 people gathered for a vigil at the Wake County jail Wednesday evening to show support for 121 people who have been detained by federal authorities under a renewed effort to discourage families and unaccompanied children from Central America from entering the U.S. illegally.
They held the vigil even though it’s not clear any of the detainees were in the Triangle.
“We wanted to express solidarity with those families whose loved ones are being deported or facing separation from their families,” said Ruben Gonzalez, program coordinator for El Pueblo, a statewide Latino advocacy group based in Raleigh.
Federal immigration authorities say their agents have seen a spike in the number of families and unaccompanied children from Central America attempting to cross the country’s Southwest border illegally. On Jan. 4, Jeh C. Johnson, secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration, Customs and Enforcement, announced a nationwide effort to return adults who had entered the country illegally with children.
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“This should come as no surprise,” Johnson said. “I have said publicly for months that individuals who constitute enforcement priorities, including families and unaccompanied children, will be removed.”
The 121 people were “taken into custody primarily from Georgia, Texas and North Carolina,” according to a federal announcement.
Gonzalez said El Pueblo and other Latino advocates met about two weeks ago after what he described as federal “raids targeting children and families from Central America who came to the U.S. seeking asylum.” He said advocates are concerned about “the human side” of the arrests and subsequent deportations.
“This is about equity and human rights,” he said. “Latinos want to be treated the same way as American citizens, with the same rights and the same access to services, without being afraid.”
Gonzalez said organizers used the vigil to inform people about their rights and what to do if they think are targeted for arrest and deportation.
Johnson said there are many who condemn the agency’s law enforcement efforts as too harsh, while others say the measures do not go far enough.
“I also recognize the reality of the pain that deportations do in fact cause,” he said.
Gonzalez also understands that pain.
“It’s not just numbers,” he said. “These are human lives being destroyed.”