lights for liberty
A large crowd gathers on the lawn of First Congregational Church for Lights for Liberty, A Vigil to End Human Concentration Camps. PHOTOS BY KATE ALBRIGHT

BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS & KATE ALBRIGHT
winters@montclairlocal.news

“We should be disturbed. We should be sick, we should be angry and we should be moved to action as all of us are here tonight,” said Rabbi Noah Fabricant to the crowd of hundreds on the lawn of the First Congregational Church in Montclair, a statement of purpose for “Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Concentration Camps” on July 12.

Just days before the Trump administration was expected to hold Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids on Sunday, the large crowd organized outside the church.

ICE was expected to target undocumented immigrants with court removal orders on Sunday. But critics were concerned the raids would go beyond immigrants with removal orders.

Anna Wong, who introduced the evening’s speakers, celebrates the nearly $4500 raised by the vigil.

Lights for Liberty is a coalition of people, many of whom are mothers, “dedicated to human rights, and the fundamental principle behind democracy that all human beings have a right to life, liberty and dignity.”

They partnered with local communities and organizations to hold vigils across the country on behalf of immigration detainees.

As Wayne Mallette sang “Wheels of a Dream” in the background, Laurel Cummins said she came out because “I just feel that everyone has to do what they can to end this, to change this.” 

Next to her, Maria Dorigo held a sign saying, in Spanish, “Return the little boys and the little girls.”

Maria Cummins-Astor said there was power in numbers. And with hundreds toppling out onto the street, the numbers were large in Montclair.

Anna Wong, chair of the board of trustees of Women for Progress, was struck by the large turnout. “When you’re looking out on a crowd like this with all the lights up, you can’t help but be moved. It’s a conflicted feeling because we’re assembling again. We’re having another rally or a vigil or protest. I feel like I’ve been to dozens of these in the last few years and you always hope that this one will be the last,” she said. “They say it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and I’m heartened by seeing how engaged people are. People haven’t let up. It hasn’t been normalized, which is good. I think we just fight on.”

Rabbi Elliott Tepperman of Bnai Keshet explained to the crowd how the word “Hebrew” means “border crosser.” Meanwhile, Rabbi Fabricant of  Temple Beth Or in the Township of Washington, addressed the controversial use of the words “concentration camps” to describe detention centers. 

“Now some in the Jewish community were disturbed, even by an event like this, by the use of the words ‘concentration camps’ to describe the facilities operated by our country in our name,” Fabricant said. “And if our first response to what we’ve heard tonight is to argue about what words we should use to describe it, then our moral vision has failed. You need to do better than that. And that’s what ‘never again’ means to me.”

Jeanne LoCicero with the American Civil Liberty Union advised attendees what to do if stopped by the police or ICE.

Immigrants, when approached by ICE, have the right to remain silent and do not have to discuss immigration or citizenship status with police or immigration agents.  Agents do not have the right to search a person or through belongings, she said.

Immigration detention is considered a civil matter, not criminal, and the due process protections that exist in criminal court, including the right to counsel, do not apply in civil immigration proceedings. But recently, Essex County set aside $750,000 for legal services to the undocumented detainees being held in the Essex County Correctional Facility. 

Under the terms, the $750,000 will be divided evenly between three groups – Rutgers University Law School, Seton Hall University School of Law, and Legal Services of New Jersey – now through June 30, 2020. They will provide counsel and services to detainees who seek various forms of relief, including securing bond, cancellation of removal, asylum, withholding, and Convention Against Torture claims. 

Lizzie Foley of Action Together New Jersey said the Essex County Detention Center is currently holding 800 detainees. The facility recently failed an ICE inspection, she added. 

“We had spoiled meat. We had moldy bread that was being actually stored in trash cans to be used as bread pudding later. We had a chicken that was leaking blood all over the other food, and we had lunch meat well past its expiration date,” she said, adding the need for a civilian oversight board for the Essex County jail, to keep both prisoners and detainees safe.

As a Latinx, Veronica Toscano attended the vigil in support of families who seek a safer life in America. “Unfortunately, that’s not happening. The vigil is a way to support all those who do not have the freedom that we have and to join everyone to make a difference,” Toscano said.

Rabbi Fabricant ended quoting Leviticus 19: “When a stranger dwells with you, a stranger, a migrant, an immigrant, an asylum seeker, a refugee; when a human being dwells in your midst, you shall not harm them. You shall love that stranger. Love that human being as yourself.”

Rabbi Noah Fabricant of Kol Dorot in Bergen County