Around 200 people gathered in Coolidge Park and walked the Walnut Street Bridge on Friday night in protest to how immigrants are being treated at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The speakers called for justice in English and Spanish to members of the crowd, who carried signs reading "No kids in camps," "Silence is complicity" and "Love not separation." More than a dozen members of local clergy joined the vigil alongside the leaders of La Paz Chattanooga, which supports the local Latinx community.
Vivian Lozano Sterchi, La Paz social impact director, said those attending the vigil were standing in solidarity with those detained and wrongly treated at the border.
"We feel that this isn't a left or right issue, this is a human rights issue," Lozano Sterchi said. "We are witnessing on the news and through the news and in reports that individuals and families are being treated terribly and being denied human rights."
The "Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Concentration Camps" event held in Coolidge Park Friday night was part of a nationwide series of vigils held in protest of the condition of refugees held at the U.S.-Mexico border. A similar event was scheduled in Dalton.
National attention turned to conditions at the border in late June after a group of lawyers said children held at the facility in Clint, Texas, were denied basic hygiene products, such as soap and toothbrushes. A government report released July 2 detailed how federal inspectors found consistent overcrowding at several immigrant detention facilities and violations of federal law in caring for detained migrants.
Pastor Emmanuel Escobar, a leader of The Net Church, thanked members of the crowd for coming to show their support. They were making a strong statement for immigrants, he said. He immigrated to the United States when he was 12 years old.
"It was people that looked like this, people who didn't look like me, who opened the door to me," Escobar said.
On the Walnut Street Bridge, clergy members read the names of children who died while in custody of the U.S. government. Charles Neal, pastor emeritus at First-Centenary United Methodist Church, read the name of Carlos Hernandez Vásquez, a 16-year-old Guatemalan boy who died in May. What is happening at the border should mobilize all people of faith, Neal said.
"It's a huge issue of faith," he said. "A nation that claims to be a Christian country cannot allow this to happen."
Other clergy who spoke called the actions of the U.S. government, such as family separation and not treating the basic health needs of children, "immoral and sinful." Each immigrant is a child of God, they said.
Colleen Davis, 73, who came to the event carrying a protest sign, said those who oppose immigrants often do not think about the situations immigrants are fleeing from, such as violence and poverty.
"If you were a parent and your child was in danger, what would you do to get your child to safety?" Davis said. "You would do exactly what the immigrants are doing."
Drenda Butler, 24, said her faith motivated her to come to the vigil. Immigrants must be treated with dignity, she said.
"Part of my responsibility with the faith I have is to help the refugees, help the vulnerable," she said.
This week, President Donald Trump announced his administration would pursue a nationwide sweep of undocumented immigrants on Sunday, targeting immigrants in 10 major U.S. cities.