More than 70 members of the Ames community gathered in the rain outside Rep. Steve King’s office Tuesday to protest the immigration facilities on the U.S.-Mexico border.
“#CloseTheCamps” is a national protest demanding political leaders close immigration detention centers, stop funding them and “bear witness and reunite the families that are detained.” Conditions at the immigration facilities were revealed by several news organizations and U.S. politicians, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas.
The protest was organized by Brenda Brink, a former candidate for the Iowa House of Representatives who was motivated to organize after seeing posts about the national movement on social media.
During the protest, a letter was passed around to each of the protesters, and testimonials from the immigrants held in the detention centers were read out loud. The testimonials described the conditions of the immigration facilities, including infants being denied medical treatment and basic necessities such as bedding.
“This is not happening to just any children,” Brink said. “When it happens to any children, it happens to our children. We are not teaching our children this anymore, are we? ... We have seen so many reports the last few days; it’s cruel. It’s cruel.”
The protestors varied from parents with their children to church leaders, bringing signs that included “‘Never Again’ is now,” and “Children are not political pawns. Shame.”
Dozmen Lee, a senior in political science, said he came to the event to support Brinks and to receive advice about his protest, which will be at noon Wednesday outside the Neal Smith Federal Building in Des Moines. Lee said he is outraged with the mistreatment of the children in the immigration facilities.
“The children have been used as a bargaining tool by the Republicans in order to get some of the funding they wanted for border security,” Lee said. “Not only have they been used as a tool, they’ve been misused and abused in these disgusting camps on the basis of freedom ... I got tired of feeling helpless and feeling like ‘wow all I can do is complain,’ so I started organizing."
The crowd also chanted “This is child abuse” and “Close the camps.”
The crowd split into two groups after speeches were given, one continuing to protest and the other delivering the letter to King’s office.
However, King’s office was closed, and the door was locked. Ronald Schuck, a teacher at Ames High School, called the office and left a voicemail for the staff.
“In the name of the United States of America, we have people seeking asylum in our country who are being kept in mass encampments," Schuck said. "Some of them are dying while in our custody — that’s not normal or OK, Most of them don’t have adequate places to sleep or access to regular water.
"We’re asking Congressman King and other congressmen nationwide to close the camps and to provide pathways to citizenship for asylum seekers.”
King's communications staff did not respond to requests for comment.
“On this Independence Day weekend, I think this whole nation has to stop and think,''Is this the way we want to behave in the land of the free and the home of the brave?’” Tom Mohan, a protester at the event said. “…. And though we have no response from Representative King in the past when we’ve come to him with letters, when we’ve visited him in Washington [D.C.] he has given us the deaf ear and the blind eye — he does pay attention to mass action.”
Mohan said his anger and outrage with the incidents on the Southern border brought him to protest, and he believes it is important to speak out about the event.
Preston Burris, a local activist, said learning about the facilities caused him to come to the protest. He said he thinks they will spread awareness but will not change much.
“Because the person we're protesting, trying to get through to — Steve King — doesn't really care about his constituency, and he doesn't even care about morality,” Burris said. ”He cares about his donors and white supremacist ideology.”
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled Dozmen Lee's name. It has been updated to reflect the correct spelling. The Daily regrets this error.