As Congress shut its doors for the holiday today, New Yorkers convened at the doors of Middle Collegiate Church in the East Village, rallying for the closure of abusive immigrant detention centers. The protest was part of the larger “Close the Camps” movement, a national day of protest pushing members of Congress to stop authorizing funding for family detention, to visit the detainment camps and to push for their closure. Locals, activists and representatives of the organizations leading Close the Camps– including MoveOn, United We Dream, American Friends Service Committee and Families Belong Together– gathered at the steps of Middle Collegiate Church to share personal testimony and their displeasure with the centers.

“My family did not come here to see members of my community be put in cages,” said Drea Herrera of the New York Civil Liberties Union. Drea was born to Mexican and Syrian immigrants. “To live in fear of being detained, reported or killed.”   

Drea Herrera

Protesters spanned nearly the entirety of East 7th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, and more gathered across the street. They held aluminum foil to mimic the children sleeping under Mylar blankets.

The rally was a mix of testimony, chanting and performances by the Middle Collegiate Church’s Resistance Revival Chorus, which sang gospel and civil rights anthems like “We Shall Overcome” and “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around,” remixed to include language specific to immigration and anti-detainment sentiment.

The chorus was led by Reverend Jacqui Lewis, senior minister at Middle Collegiate. “I come from a people stacked in the barrel of ships like sardines,” said Lewis, an activist and author. “I’m not having that treatment for other people. Not on my watch!”

 The protest against the camps comes as a shocking report by ProPublica revealed a secret Facebook group of Border Patrol agents making cruel jokes about detained families and the Congresswomen visiting them. 

“When I think of my story, I often think of the children and families that are suffering in the camps today,” said immigrant rights activist and organizer Tony Choi. A DACA recipient, Choi’s family moved him from Seoul to the United States at nine years old to escape “despair and homelessness.” “I think back to being nine years old. I imagine being ripped apart from my family. I imagine myself acting up and being drugged against my will to control me.” 

Tony Choi

The Middle Collegiate Church rally was intended to reach Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY, 12th district) whose district spans the East Village, Lower East Side and parts of North Queens. A supporter of the Dream Act, Congresswoman Maloney has openly disapproved of the treatment of families at the border. Since today’s protest, she has tweeted that she will be going to the border next week. She also expressed support for another rally held this afternoon at Foley Square, where fellow representative Nydia Válezquez (D-NY, 7th district) and House Democratic Caucus chairman Hakeem Jeffries gathered to denounce the detention centers and the tasteless border agent group chat. 

Rallies spanned from Brooklyn to the city; one was scheduled in Williamsburg this afternoon to push Maloney to end immigrant detention funding. Activists were also scheduled to gather at the Soho office of Representative Jerold Nadler’s (D-NY, 10th district). And at 6pm this evening, there’ll be a rally in front of Chuck Schumer’s Park Slope apartment. For more information, visit Close the Camps’ website.

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