Detention Center Protester: 'Thou Shalt Not Be a Bystander' | Sojourners

Detention Center Protester: 'Thou Shalt Not Be a Bystander'

Susan Kent Avjian, whose parents are Holocaust survivors, says she refuses to stay silent about immigrant detention facilities at the U.S. southern border — it reminds her of the path that led to the genocide of Jewish people by Nazis during World War II.

As she joined crowds in Lafayette Square Friday for Washington, D.C.’s “Lights for Liberty” vigil, the 60-year-old Gaithersburg, Md., woman said her parents’ experiences during the Holocaust are “integral with who she is” and criticized President Donald Trump and his administration for “talking about people as if they aren’t human beings.”

“What I see Trump and the current administration doing is going down the same path that things started in Nazi Germany,” Avjian said. “I feel that every one of us has to speak up and we can’t let the divisiveness that is permeating our country right now continue.”

The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

The vigil was one of more than 700 organized across the world  to demand the closing of detention centers in the southern United States. Trump confirmed earlier on Friday that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents would conduct raids Sunday to “take criminals out” or deport them “back to their countries.”

Deportations do not only affect those at the southern border, but also families across the country and the Washington metropolitan area, said Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA, an advocacy group serving Latinx and immigrant people in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

“Lights for Liberty is not a moment in time,” Torres said. “It’s a movement, and we are going to keep working together until not one of the children and families are in the detention centers.”

The event featured speakers from multiple organizations, including United We Dream, Casa Ruby, and Haitian Bridge Alliance.

Gerson Quinteros, an organizer with United We Dream, was 9 years old when he was detained by ICE after crossing the border. He was later released and reunited with his mother in Washington.

“Even after I got [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals], I remember still being afraid of what could happen to me or one of my family members,” Quinteros said. “I knew at any moment, I could be separated from them. My experience isn’t unique.”

Avjian said in an interview that the country’s diversity created by immigrants should be embraced. Her father, she said, taught her the importance of speaking out against injustice.

“He says there should be an 11th commandment and that is, ‘Thou shalt not be a bystander.’”