Stock photo: David Dilbert/Pexels

Local residents will join a nationwide vigil Friday night to call for an end to human detention camps at the southern border.

“Lights for Liberty” is a candlelight vigil scheduled for Friday evening, July 12 in hundreds of communities across the United States.

Locally, organizers are asking people to gather outside 54 East Main Street (next to the Congregational Church) at 8:30 p.m. Friday.

“At 9 p.m. around the country and around the world, participants will light candles in a silent vigil for all those being held in U.S. detention camps to bring light to the darkness of the Trump administration’s horrific policies,” Lights for Liberty national organizers said in a press release.

The protest grew out of recent disclosures of conditions at Customs and Border Patrol detention facilities on the southern border designed for short-term custody but overwhelmed by the volume of migrants being apprehended — coupled with federal policies barring release of detainees awaiting asylum decisions or deportation proceedings, and the lack of other available facilities to which detainees can be transferred.

Members of the Congress who toured two Customs and Border Patrol detention facilities July 1 spoke out about squalid conditions they saw on the tour, which was organized Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

That was followed by the release of a report by the Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security notifying management at the federal agency of “dangerous overcrowding and prolonged detention of children and adults in the Rio Grande Valley” in Texas and urging DHS to take immediate action to alleviate the conditions.

The inspector general’s report provided details of conditions in the detention camps, where thousands of adults and children were held in overcrowded pens or cells with no or limited access to showers and laundry facilities and children were not provided with hot meals as required by Customs and Border Patrol’s Transport, Escort, Detention and Search (TEDS) standards.

The report also included the first images of conditions inside the camps. CBP prohibited visiting lawmakers from taking pictures during their tour.

The lawmakers’ accounts and the DHS inspector general’s report sparked outrage in the U.S. and internationally.

The IG report prompted a strong rebuke by the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, who said in a statement July 8 she was “appalled” at the conditions at the camps and “deeply shocked that children are forced to sleep on the floor in overcrowded facilities, without access to adequate healthcare or food, and with poor sanitation conditions.”

“Any deprivation of liberty of adult migrants and refugees should be a measure of last resort,” she said, adding that where detention is necessary, it should be for the shortest period and under conditions that satisfy international human rights standards,” Bachelet said.

“Clearly, border management measures must comply with the State’s human rights obligations and should not be based on narrow policies aimed only at detecting, detaining and expeditiously deporting irregular migrants,” she said.

“States do have the sovereign prerogative to decide on the conditions of entry and stay of foreign nationals. But clearly, border management measures must comply with the State’s human rights obligations and should not be based on narrow policies aimed only at detecting, detaining and expeditiously deporting irregular migrants,” she added.

“In most of these cases, the migrants and refugees have embarked on perilous journeys with their children in search of protection and dignity and away from violence and hunger. When they finally believe they have arrived in safety, they may find themselves separated from their loved ones and locked in undignified conditions. This should never happen anywhere,” the U.N. human rights chief said.

The president of the American Federation of Teachers, a sponsor of Lights for Liberty, said his union’s members work to help others every day. “What the United States is doing at our southern border in these detention camps is an abomination to the soul of our country and is contrary to everything we do,” Randi Weingarten said.

“Silence is not an option,” she said.

In addition to Riverhead, “Lights for Liberty” vigils are planned in Patchogue and Sag Harbor. The Patchogue vigil will take place outside the district office of First District Rep. Lee Zeldin.

The event in Riverhead is being organized by Indivisible North Fork, the Riverhead Anti-Bias Task Force and North Fork Spanish Apostolate.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.