‘Close the camps’: Dozens in Palo Alto launch 3-week immigration protest

PALO ALTO — Flabbergasted by the way the federal government is treating asylum seekers and children at the nation’s southern border, dozens of people kicked off a three-week protest Sunday on the sidewalks and pedestrian islands of one of Palo Alto’s main intersections.

Many in the group of nearly 60 people, young and old, held signs or posters with such messages as “No kids in cages” and “Close the camps.” A few others hoisted miniature plastic Statue of Liberty replica flames, hoping to spread a message of welcoming immigrants.

The action is co-organized by Nechama Tamler of Palo Alto, in affiliation with the South Bay chapter of Bend the Arc, a national Jewish progressive activism organization, and people from all faiths and backgrounds are invited to join the protests, which will be held noon to 12:30 p.m. every day except Saturdays through Aug. 11 at the intersection of El Camino Real and Page Mill Road.

Although the protesters met with few signs of opposition Sunday, Tamler, 72, says she knows people protesting on sidewalks can sometimes be dismissed as “crazy grandmas.” But she added that these kinds of demonstrations are “the most sane thing we can be doing,” especially for those who can’t be at the border sites or support aid groups with money.

“I hope that other Palo Altans who aren’t keeping up with it will have their consciousness raised, will see that there are citizens that are speaking up and speaking out, protesting,” she said.

“The way people are being held is tantamount to torture,” she said.

During Sunday afternoon’s inaugural protest, hundreds of cars passed by honking in support, while members of the group occasionally chanted slogans such as “Close those camps.”

“Unfortunately, we need to keep reminding people that this continues to happen, and it hasn’t been solved,” Miguel Sanchez, of Mountain View, said, while holding a sign that read “Where is our morality” checkered with question marks.

Sanchez said he hopes the protest would challenge people to reflect on their positions about the state of affairs in the country, not just in light of the actions at the border, but also in the wake of the recent racist tweets from President Trump telling four Democratic congresswomen of color to “go back” to where they came from.

“They drive by, they see the signs, at some point, you have to start to have an opinion about it,” he said.

“You need to understand why you’re either against something or why you’re for something. I think we’re starting to cross many lines at this point where you just can’t be a bystander,” he said.

Rhona Mahoney, of Stanford, helped organize the action and said she hopes its consistent presence and short time commitment will encourage more people to participate. If people can’t make it out in person, she said they should call their elected member of congress, or senators to express their opinion on the detention camps.

“If enough people stand up, speak out, I hope that they will close the camps,” she said.

“It’s grossly unethical, it’s cruel,” she said of the conditions at the camps. “These kids are going to be psychologically scarred for decades.”

Syracuse University research shows over 80 percent of asylum seeking families who were released by the government showed up for their initial court hearings, and if they had an attorney, that figure jumped to more than 99 percent.

Mahoney referenced that research, and said it’s part of why she believes there’s no reason for the camps.

“It makes me so sad, especially here in California where we have the terrible, shameful experience in the 1940s with the interment of our Japanese-American neighbors,” she said.

“Bad things happen because good people let them happen,” she said, citing both internment of Japanese-Americans and the Holocaust.

“I think many Republican members of Congress are very afraid that if they speak up, they will be challenged by a competing Republican candidate in their primary. And I think their self-interested fear is immobilizing them, and I think it’s a terrible scandal,” she said.

Mahoney, Sanchez, and Tamler agreed there needs to be a bipartisan effort to find a balanced immigration policy, but felt the camps should be closed immediately.

Mahoney said the protests aim to make that scenario a reality.

“We just want to galvanize people,” she said, “we can end it.”

“What’s being done on the border is being done with my tax dollars, in my name,” Tamler  said. “I can’t not support it, because I pay taxes, so this is an antidote. This is saying, ‘No. No.’”