Hundreds of New Mexicans from around New Mexico gathered for a vigil outside of the Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement building on Friday to demand lawmakers to “close the camps” under the nationwide Liberty of Lights movement.
The vigil was organized by the Three Sisters Collective, a grassroots organization of indigenous women in Santa Fe, co-founded by University of New Mexico alumni Dr. Christina M. Castro. The event was co-organized by the New Mexico Dream Team, the Medicine Drum Circle, and Remembering Ancestors Inspiring Community Empowering Self, RAICES. Planned Parenthood and the New Mexico Immigration Law Center were among the groups in attendance.
The evening began by calling upon ancestors for protection, followed by a blessing of all four cardinal directions. The prayer was led by Tonita Gonzales, a medicine woman of RAICES. Gonzales mentioned the native tale of the Eagle and the Condor, which prophesied that one day, the people of the North and South will be united again.
“As I stand here in strength with all of my brothers and sisters, I also stand here in strength with my brothers and sisters in the South,” Gonzales said. “It was the border that crossed us, we did not cross that border.”
A representative for United States Congresswoman Deb Haaland delivered Haaland’s message that she stands with immigrants in New Mexico and is working to pass legislation to protect the immigration community.
“She (Deb Haaland) has been very active with many of her colleagues trying to fight what is happening in congress through bills and resolutions,” said Brenda McKenna, Haaland's representative. “She took a stand for border communities and for families and voted against the supplemental funding bill with inadequate protections for people.”
Whether it was delivered in written word, poetry or song, the universal message among the speakers was resoundingly clear: the politicization of trauma is inhumane.
Blanca, an organizer with the NM Dream Team, called to memorialize the transgender women who have died in ICE custody, Roxana Hernandez and Johana Medina and condemned Congress’ inaction.
“I stand here today to demand Congress to defund ICE and CBP,” Blanca said. “It is up to us to stand up for the children and families whose lives are being held hostage for the sake of politics,” adding that, “These concentration camps make big corporations richer at the expense of the lives of children and families.”
Blanca also said Haaland being vocal about voting against the funding bill was paramount in showing support for the immigrant community. On Tuesday, July 2, community members gathered outside of the Simms Building to denounce the actions of Senator Tom Udall, Senator Martin Heinrich and Congresswoman Xochitl Torres Small for voting in favor of a border spending bill.
Mayor Tim Keller delivered a speech of unity and support for the immigrant community. Keller said he visited the border in El Paso the day before the vigil.
“I can’t operate a city where a huge section of our population is afraid to call the police,” Keller said. “This fear is being driven from D.C. and from these policies.” He added that “it is the hateful rhetoric that is dividing us that is making it harder for me to run our city in an effective, compassionate way.”
Jewish Voice for Peace member Dina Afek told the story of how her life and family were directly affected by the Holocaust. Afek made it a point to say that no one has a monopoly over the term “concentration camp,” and those who claim to are “attempting to change the subject, blur the issue and minimize the crimes committed.”
“Never again is not a slogan, it is a commitment,” Afek said. “It means never again should any human being, anywhere, be treated inhumanely — not in Syria, not in China, not in Palestine, not in Saudi Arabia, not in the Congo, nowhere. Never again today, right here in this country, means shut down the concentration camps.”
Castro, an organizer of the event, was vocal about why these vigils and protests are necessary and should be important to all people, not just immigrants.
“If we don’t act now, then history will repeat itself through complacency,” Castro said. “We’ve seen the stages of genocide. People are already dying. If one person dies, that’s too much.”
Mayor Tim Keller told the Daily Lobo that he believes being One Albuquerque means showing support for the immigrant community.
“I believe that our city should stand for inclusion in every way, and that includes our immigrant community, migrants and asylum seekers,” Keller said. “This is what I ran on because this is what I believe, so when I can, I try to show up to show support.”
As the night came to a close, Native prayers and drums began again. Echoes of “mi duele” wailed through the smoke-filled sky, lit by vigil lights held high by Burqueños, all different and all united.
Alyssa Martinez is a freelance reporter with the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @amart4447.