Politics & Government

Dozens in Sacramento join nationwide protest against immigrant detention camps

Dozens of activists joined a protest in downtown Sacramento on Tuesday to press for a closure of immigrant detention centers, charging that the federal government has treated people inhumanely.

More than 100 similar events unfolded across the country, where advocates for immigrant rights sought to catch the attention of congressional lawmakers who are in their home districts for a recess.

“I’m here to oppose the inhumane treatment that kids and asylum seekers are being kept in and calling to close the camps, which are concentration camps,” said Sacramento protester Roman Arteaga.

They chanted “close the camps,” and “free the children” outside the Robert T. Matsui federal courthouse, which houses offices for Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, and Sen. Kamala Harris.

The number of people attempting to cross the Mexico border has surged in recent months despite the Trump administration’s efforts to deter immigration, with 144,000 crossings recorded in May. The House of Representatives last week approved a $4.5 billion spending bill to address a humanitarian crisis unfolding at the border.

Some of the protesters in Sacramento had visited detention camps to see conditions for themselves. Rebecca Vandegrift of Grass Valley traveled to a temporary tent city near Tornillo, Texas that closed earlier this year.

“It was surprising to me how traumatic it was for me. I can’t imagine how traumatic it was for (the detained immigrants). It stayed with me, and it has never left,” she said. “When we were closing Tornillo, we actually thought that was a step forward, but it wasn’t. It was actually a step to even more horrible things going on.”

She said she isn’t opposed to the government temporarily holding people who attempt to cross the border. She was alarmed by reports of detainees going without necessities like clean water and toothbrushes.

“We can certainly do better than what we are doing now. We can certainly provide them with proper nutrition, the medicines they need and the psychological help that they need,” Vandegrift said. “That’s what I want to see.”

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Elizabeth Shwe, from Princeton University, is a local news reporter for The Sacramento Bee interested in politics and immigration. She grew up in New Jersey.