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On Independence Day, Demonstrators At The Texas Capitol Protest Migrant Detention

A crowd at the Texas Capitol protests migrant detention camps
Michael Minasi for KUT
Hundreds of people demonstrated at the state Capitol on Thursday, demanding the government shut down migrant detention camps.

Hundreds of people crowded the Texas Capitol on the Fourth of July to protest the detention of migrants at border camps. 

Local activists and self-described “angry moms,” Crystal Bird Caviel and Randi Hensley, organized the protest after reports released earlier this week detailed unsanitary conditions at the camps and described the overcrowded facilities as "dangerous.” Smaller protests, organized by MoveOn, were held Tuesday in downtown Austin.

Crystal Bird Caviel
Credit Michael Minasi for KUT
Crystal Bird Caviel told the crowd it would be "vulgar" to carry on as if there weren't families "unjustly locked up in cages at the border."

Caviel addressed the crowd about the importance of showing up on a day like Independence Day.

“We felt that it would be vulgar to carry on as if we didn’t have people unjustly locked up in cages at the border,” said Caviel, who likened the detention centers to “concentration camps,” echoing the words of New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“This administration will have you believe that families escaping nightmarish conditions who are willing to risk every obstacle and every brutality, with their children on their backs, are coming to take something from you,” she said. “But we categorically reject and refuse this incendiary, insidious language from a bigoted tyrant.” 

Katie Drackert (left) and Karla Arias hug
Credit Michael Minasi for KUT
Katie Drackert (left) and Karla Arias hug during the demonstration.

Telma Lopez, who is originally from Guatemala, shared the stage with immigrant organizer, Sulma Franco, and three other immigrants who had been detained at border camps. Lopez said she spent eight months at the Hutto Detention Center after escaping persecution based on her gender identity. She said her treatment at the center was “humiliating and discriminatory.”

“I think there are lots of things that happen within detention centers that people who are not in them don’t know about,” Lopez said in her native Spanish. “For an immigrant, you don’t have human rights. The rules are set by the detention center.”

Brothers Estuardo and Giovani, who were also on stage, held a sign reading, “Reunite families! Shut down Hutto!” The teenagers came to the U.S. from Guatemala with their families two and a half months ago.

“Sometimes, being an immigrant, you face lots of discrimination. People don’t want to give us our rights because we’re from another country and because of the color of our skin,” Estuardo, the older of the two, said. “I’m happy because I see people who are standing with us as immigrants today.”

Before marching to Gov. Greg Abbott’s mansion, protesters honored the seven migrant children who have died in U.S. custody since December, singing “This Little Light of Mine” while placing flowers in front of their photographs.

A memorial to Felipe Gomez Alonzo, who died in a detention center
Credit Michael Minasi for KUT
Protesters laid flowers on the photos of 8-year-old Felipe Gomez Alonzo and other migrant children who died in U.S. detention centers.

Giulia is a student at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY in New York City. She’s in Austin for the summer interning with KUT and KUTX, and before J-school, worked in documentary film and with incarcerated youth. She was born in Rome but moved around a bunch, stimulating her interest in hyperlocal culture and identity.
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