About 100 people gathered in Baker Park on Friday evening to call attention to the treatment of immigrants in detention centers in the United States.
Frederick was one of almost 800 cities that held Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Concentration Camps. The Frederick vigil was organized by the local members of the RISE Coalition of Western Maryland.
“Lights for Liberty came out of the idea of lifting up the stories of folks who are struggling through detention right now,” said Roberto Juarez, a member of RISE who lives in Frederick. “There’s a lot of folks here in Frederick who do care about immigrants ... that wanted to come out and be in solidarity.”
The event occurred as immigrants in the U.S. illegally brace for large-scale raids expected to begin this weekend by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The vigil comes among growing reports of inhumane conditions in detention centers along the U.S.-Mexico border such as standing-room-only cells, infants living without diapers and breakouts of sicknesses including shingles.
According to The Associated Press, at least five children have died in Border Patrol custody since December.
The vigil began with words from Frederick religious leaders and other community members.
One speaker, who did not give her full name, recounted her journey to the United States as an unaccompanied minor from El Salvador. She spoke of her journey and how the current conditions are likely making the process even more traumatizing.
Participants then walked around the park in twos, singing songs of hope. They carried signs with messages such as “Love thy neighbor” and “What if it was your child?”
Frederick resident Deidre Burmgardener said she was pleased to see many new faces at the vigil.
“This is obviously an issue that is impacting a lot of people,” Burmgardener said.
For some residents, the vigil was a chance to address the tendrils of immigration enforcement that have made their way into Frederick County.
Many speakers mentioned the 287(g) program and Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins, who is a strong supporter of the program.
The 287(g) program is an agreement between the sheriff’s office and ICE. It provides training for sheriff’s deputies by ICE and allows deputies to inquire about the immigration status of anyone booked into the county’s adult detention center and begin deportation proceedings if appropriate.
Many speakers used the vigil to call attention to the program and encourage participants to fight against it.
“I think it’s wrong to have that contract and I think the way the county government has handled that contract, they’re ducking the issue,” Frederick resident Meg Menke said.
Burmgardener said she “totally disapproves” of the program.
A spokeswoman for the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on specifics before Friday night’s vigil.
“We do know that they are important and fundamental to our society and communities,” agency spokeswoman Taylor Clarke wrote in an email response.
The vigil ended in candlelight. Participants gathered in a circle as the names of every immigrant who has died in U.S. custody in the last two years were read.
Some cried, others hugged each other.
“I can’t sleep at night. ... It breaks my heart to know that there are kids somewhere being absolutely mistreated and that other human beings are mistreated,” Burmgardener said in a choked voice. “This isn’t who we are as Americans.”
Juarez reminded those in attendance that many people across the country are at that moment experiencing hardship.
“We know tonight, thousands of people in this county are afraid,” Juarez said. “Some of them are in detention centers sleeping on cold floors.”