Hundreds of people holding posters and banners marched through downtown Austin on July 4 to protest the Trump administration's use of detention centers along the southern border.
“This is a holiday that celebrates freedom, and we couldn’t just let it happen as usual,” protest organizer Crystal Bird Caviel said in an interview. ”There are people who have lost their freedom languishing in cages on the border in their pursuit for a better life.”
The Trump administration has faced backlash over reports of overcrowded and unsanitary conditions at migrant holding centers, according to a report by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General. Caviel said looking at her own children and thinking about similar children in detention centers motivated her to organize the “No More Cages” protest.
“There are parents reaching for their children somewhere, and those children are on the other side trying to reach back,” Caviel said. “It must feel like the end of the world to them.”
While many UT students celebrated the nation’s independence with friends and family, international relations junior Cerena Ermitanio came out to protest.
“With July Fourth, we’ve created this myth that the U.S. is the supreme and the best example of democracy,” Ermitanio said. “With this protest we’re trying to go back to this myth and build a better democracy for migrants.”
Ermitanio, who said she visited a detention center in Carrizo Springs, Texas, on July 3, said she thinks current immigration policies are “racist” and meant to further destabilize Central American families. The U.S. should be more accepting of migrants, she said.
“As a daughter of an immigrant, I truly believe that migration is a human right,” said Alisa Hernandez, a public affairs and social work graduate student who helped organize the event. “We should not have detention centers and should abolish (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), so I’m here today to make that message clear.”
Hernandez led the crowd, which included many UT students, with chants through the streets of downtown. The protestors’ chants included, “I am somebody and I deserve full equality,” and, “Que viva Mexico, que viva Guatemala, que viva Salvador.”
“When students come together, we have so much power,” Hernandez said. “It’s important to let UT know that there are so many students who support this.”
Addressing the crowd at the end of the protest, Caviel said every person has a responsibility to help other people.
“We have to do the work and show up for the people who don’t have a voice,” Caviel said to the crowd. “I refuse to be the one that says I wish I did something about that.”