Mexico City protest calls for global unity against U.S. migrant detention

A protester at the Lights for Liberty demonstration near the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City holds up a sign stressing the importance of including the queer community in discussions about immigration. (Photo by Samantha Bushman.)

MEXICO CITY — Protesters near the United States Embassy on Friday night called for an end to the migrant concentration camps and for change to U.S. immigration policy.

But protests directly in front of the embassy weren’t allowed. So, the gathering took place on a median, separated by armed guards in front of a sprawling wall, a chain link fence, and a whoosh of cars on one of Mexico City’s busiest streets.

The demonstration, known as Lights for Liberty: a vigil to end human detention, was coordinated scheduled for hundreds of cities around the United States and the world, including nearly 50 that were scheduled in Washington state alone. There were several demonstrations scheduled around Mexico, including in Oaxaca, Guadalajara and U.S.-chain hotels.

“What we mostly want to accomplish is just to shed light on what is happening in the U.S., but also communicate that the American public does not physically support what Trump is doing,” Lori Smith, vice president of Democrats Abroad Mexico City said.

The worldwide protests are against the U.S. procedure of putting migrants seeking asylum into crowded detention centers and separating children from parents. The camps have lacked facilities such as showers and beds, and several detainees, including children, have died in U.S. custody.

The gathering in Mexico City, locally organized by Democrats Abroad, drew a crowd that included those that had been detained, deported or returned, local nongovernmental organizations and American citizens against the Trump administration. By bringing together those that could directly impact policy with victims of immigration violence, the group was able to stress international advocacy.

Kristen Hutchins Current, who lives in the Seattle area, was in Mexico City visiting her sister when she heard about the protest and decided to attend. She didn’t have any direct experience as a migrant but stressed the racist and negative impact of the Trump presidency on the human rights of migrants.

“I’ve got two kids at home and I think they understand,” Hutchins Current said. “My eight year old shouldn’t have to be crying about kids in cages.”

A protester at a rally near the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City holds up a sign in English. (Photo by Samantha Bushman.)

Smith is working with Democrats Abroad to register voters in Mexico City. Many of those they are reaching are adult American citizens who were forced to leave the United States as children because their parents had no documentation.

“We estimate there are about 500,000 who can vote and whose parents were deported from the U.S.,” Smith said.

According to organizers, American citizens and the deported in Mexico are a hugely overlooked portion of the migrant population. They represent those that not only have direct experience with the U.S. immigration system and the deportation process but also have the legal ability to be a voice for their community, in which many are unable to do so.

“We need to reunite families, we need to have an immigration reform that is not just for DACA people, DACA people are just for a few people, I mean like it has to be for everyone,” said Maggie Loredo, founder of Otros Dreams en Accíon.

Loredo moved back to Mexico more than a decade ago from where she grew up in Georgia, after she found her options for higher education in the United States were limited because she lacked immigration documentation.

Otros Dreams en Acción (ODA) connects deported and returned individuals with health and career resources, cultural identity, and a community.

Because immigration reform efforts are concentrated within the United States, many forget that in a country like Mexico where people are returned, advocacy is robust, strong, and necessary.

“Our biggest perspective is that we need to transnationally, trans-locally collaborate because we’re not going to be able to continue forward if we’re not together,” Loredo said. “I think we need to start collaborating and fighting together if we want to come somewhere or put any pressure on anything.”

The United States government estimates there were around 1 million expats, or American citizens, permanently living in Mexico last year. While the majority of these people have not been deported or detained, they do have the unique opportunity to support deported individuals and groups like ODA while dispelling common American stereotypes about Mexican people and policy.

“I really am just appalled by what’s happening in these detention centers, I can’t believe this is possible,” Smith said. “I think we should have due process to stop this as soon as possible, but here all the time I meet people who have come back from the US.”

The protesters chanted slogans calling for abolishing the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, close the camps and “Fuera Trump” (which roughly translates to “out with Trump”). The chanting drowned out the moment of silence called for by Lights for Liberty. Protestors held candles, flickering brightly in an increasingly dark median and looked on as victims of immigration violence teared up sharing their stories at a mic.

“Nuestros hermanos y hermanas migrantes en Estados Unidos también está sufriendo persecución, una persecusión fascista, una persecucion racista,” an unnamed protestor said.

One protester held a sign stressing the importance of including the queer community in discussions about immigration.  While Mexico City is a well known haven for the LGBTQ+ community, the rest of Mexico doesn’t always share the same sentiment. This adds another challenge for migrants, who can face employment discrimination and violence, among others.

Many at the U.S. Embassy protest said the U.S. policies needed to change, immediately. Unlike at many protests in the United States, there was no visible presence of counter-protesters who agreed with Trump’s policies.

“Trump says he supports legal migration, and yet he does everything to stop it,” Smith said.

Protesters at a Lights for Liberty rally near the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City holds up signs in English and Spanish. (Photo by Samantha Bushman.)
Protesters at a Lights for Liberty rally near the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City holds up signs in English and Spanish. (Photo by Samantha Bushman.)
Organizer Beatriz Zarur holds up a protest sign as the crowds begin to gather near the U.S. Embassy on Avenue Paseo de la Reforma. (Photo by Samantha Bushman)