‘Close the camps’: New Yorkers demand an end to immigrant detention centers

People protesting immigrant detention facilities gather in Manhattan on Tuesday to call for their closure.
People protesting immigrant detention facilities gather in Manhattan on Tuesday to call for their closure.

Roughly 450 New Yorkers gathered at four emotional Close the Camps rallies on Tuesday, demanding that Congress put an end to immigrant detention centers.   

The protests, part of more than 180 happening nationwide, took place at Middle Collegiate Church in Manhattan and in Brooklyn at Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s office, Rep. Max Rose’s office and at Prospect Park West.

The groups called on Congress to close all immigrant detention centers, reunite separated families and for government to cease spending on detention and deportations.  

Outside Maloney’s office, protesters signed a thank you card to the representative for visiting a detention facility in New Jersey. Around 40 people signed the card, which accompanied a letter asking that Maloney continue to fight against the facilities.

Many parents protesting brought along their children. 
Many parents protesting brought along their children.  Photo Credit: Li Yakira Cohen

John Alvaro, 34, who lives around the corner from the congresswoman’s office and attended, said he was standing up for his father, a political asylum-seeker from Cuba, and his 3-year-old daughter.

“It’s inexcusable. It’s inhuman,” he said. After seeing a viral image of a dead father and daughter washed up on the shore of the Rio Grandehe said he had to explain the current state of immigration to his daughter.

“I had to tell my daughter that right now people who look like her papi are being seen as less than and being kept away from safety … that it might be because they don’t like you or speak your language. And she said ‘I’m going to say hola, buenos dias and [President Donald] Trump won’t like me.’”

Queens resident Yadira Dumet, a 31-year-old DACA recipient originally from Peru, said she had visited an immigration shelter in 2014 and saw “countless” children and their families seeking asylum.

While the situation for immigrants has escalated since then, she said she is hopeful that the increasing community and congressional action will finally effect change.

Protesters gather outside Rep. Max Rose's office in Bay Ridge.
Protesters gather outside Rep. Max Rose’s office in Bay Ridge. Photo Credit: Li Yakira Cohen

“This is not new, but I think after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez used the term concentration camps, people realized this is a crisis,” she said, referring to the New York congresswoman. “Representatives can do something. We need to come together and be more involved in our communities.”

Meanwhile, on Second Avenue in Manhattan, protesters donned solar blankets like the ones seen in images shared from inside detention centers and chanted slogans like "undocumented, unafraid." 

Arlene Rice, 69, of Astoria, who was part of that group, said that the detention centers are not holding centers, but rather likened them to concentration camps harboring people of color.

“It’s not a death camp like Auschwitz, but it’s a death camp in America where children are dying, where adults are dying,” she said. “I’m sick of it. … I don’t see not one white child in that concentration camp. If it was a white child in there, America would be in an uproar.”

Later in the day in Bay Ridge, protesters set up a dog cage holding a solar blanket-covered doll right outside Rep. Max Rose’s office. Screams of "What’s outrageous? Kids in cages," rang through the air, supported by car horns — and the occasional "build a wall" chant by those opposed to the protest.

After listening to organizers read off the names of six children who have died in detention centers, Staten Island mom Deborah Ramos, 57, was nearly in tears. 

"As a mother I just know how fearful I was when I didn’t see my son for two seconds, so I can’t imagine what these other women must be feeling," she said. "We don’t want our tax dollars to go to the traumatization of children and to basically dividing the country and scapegoating refugees who are seeking a better life." 

She and many others are frustrated with Rose for not working toward defunding the detention facilities. 

"It’s just basic American principle," one protester Jeremy Kaplan said. "If you seek asylum, you’re not supposed to come here to be treated like you’re in prison and that’s what’s happening."  

Kaplan has spent the past few years working on an unspecified documentary in Belize, Honduras and Guatemala, where he has grown more empathetic to the residents’ situations. 

"Since the coup in Honduras around 10 years ago, the situation has gotten worse," he said. "I can completely see why families are saying that North America sounds like a better option right now." 

On Tuesday evening, Prospect Park West was flooded with chants of "shut them down." 

"I came out here today because I’m the son of a refugee," said Noah Weston, 34, an immigrant rights advocate from Bay Ridge. "There’s no reason right now why all these people who are in these detention camps cannot be settled in homes of family members, friends, different institutions." 

DACA recipient Nova Rivera-Ramirez, a 25-year-old from Queens, said she is tired of hiding and wants the issues on the border fixed. 

"I’m an undocumented immigrant. Whenever I hear the stories of what’s happening, it’s hard to separate myself from those people, those kids who are suffering, who don’t deserve to be going through those conditions," she said. "I’m not afraid of these laws, this administration. … I’m going to fight." 

The protests came a day after ICE announced that a sixth detained immigrant has died in its custody since October 2018. They were also sparked by multiple stories detailing conditions inside detention facilities, specifically those holding children. Hundreds of children were held at a facility in Clint, Texas, many without soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, clean clothes, or clean diapers, according to The New York Times.