WELLSBORO — Wellsboro was one of the more than 700 cities nationwide that held a Lights for Liberty candlelight vigil on July 12. Located on The Green across from the Deane Center, a group of about 75 people gathered with signs protesting the separation of families and the conditions of the detention centers at the U.S.-Mexico border.
“These detention centers are inhumane. We cannot turn a blind eye to this because we are compassionate Americans,” said Yolie Canales, of Wellsboro, co-organizer of the Wellsboro Lights for Liberty, along with Judith Sornberger, of Wellsboro.
Sornberger spoke about how hard it is for parents who have children taken from them and don’t know where they are. She talked about her own experience of not knowing where her son was while stationed in Iraq. She read an excerpt from her book of poetry, “I Call to You from Time,” an excerpt from “Prayer as Tanks Slouch toward Baghdad.”
Pastor Rich Hanlon of the United Methodist Church of Wellsboro gave the opening prayer. He said he wasn’t there because of his political views, but because he wants to live in a way that is faithful to the good news of Jesus.
“What I see here before me tonight is hearts that are breaking for those who have been marginalized, despised and rejected at the southern United States border,” Hanlon said.
“But I also see hearts that are inspired by the spirit of God to make an impact; to lend our voices to the voiceless and to speak against policies and procedures that violate the dignity and sacred worth of human beings who happen to be immigrants seeking asylum,” Hanlon said.
Mansfield resident Carolyn Smith was there because she was against family separations, regardless of how she may feel about immigration.
“Those families who are separated … we’re not sure if they’ll ever be able to find their adults again,” Smith said.
After poetry reading and patriotic songs, everyone took a candle and marched to the Tioga County Courthous, many holding signs with statements like: “So… Jesus was a migrant child. Just sayin’,” “Make America kind again,” “Kids do not belong in cages” and “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
Jennifer Roth, of Wellsboro, said she didn’t feel it was inappropriate to call the detention centers concentration camps. The kids don’t have proper clothing and are taking care of other children, she said.
German concentration camps, she said, would separate groups of people to break those bonds.
Carla Tardieu and Sandy Beideman, of Wellsboro, said this is an important issue.
“Nobody likes to see children or families treated inhumanely. I think it’s an issue that speaks to everybody’s heart,” Tardieu said.
“I was absolutely thrilled with the turnout,” Sornberger said in an email. “I think that shows that the treatment of immigrants and refugees is a humanitarian issue that’s important to people, regardless of their political affiliation.”
What’s Next: Sornberger urges people to support RAICES, a non-profit organization that provides free and low-cost legal services to immigrant children and their families, and to write to their elected officials in Washington, D.C.