DOWNERS GROVE – On a cool summer evening, Anita Leonard sat on a bench in Downers Grove's Fishel Park and listened closely to a string of community leaders who spoke out against migrant detention centers and the conditions undocumented migrant families face.
Several media outlets have reported issues of overcrowding, the lack of basic amenities like soap and water and mistreatment of immigrant children, ultimately firing up a controversy about human rights under the Trump administration.
Against the backdrop of a Friday night car show in downtown Downers Grove, Leonard was one of nearly 100 people who gathered at the local park July 12 for a candlelight vigil to stand in solidarity with undocumented migrant families. The evening event was part of a larger movement, Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Concentration Camps, and sought to protest the living conditions at border facilities.
As a former early education teacher, Leonard believed that migrant children and teens are especially at risk.
"I know how traumatized the separation of children can be from their own parents," said Leonard, of Willowbrook. "That's why I think it's important to be here."
Rita Casper, another attendee, shared some of Leonard's sentiments.
A second generation Mexican-American, Casper noted how members of her family came to the United States for work and to strive for higher education, but more than that, people – no matter what age, gender or ethnicity – deserve love and respect, she said.
"These people want the same things that everybody else want," said Casper, a Downers Grove resident. "We need to be saying, 'You can't do this. You can't do this,' no matter who the president is. Don't shame them."
Together, State Rep. Anne Stava-Murray, D-Naperville, the Downers Grove Township Democratic Organization and the Democratic Women of DuPage County organized Lights for Liberty in Downers Grove. Residents from surrounding communities like Elmhurst, Glen Ellyn and Naperville also joined in on the event.
Guest speakers including Darien Alderman Lester Vaughan and his wife, Laura Kaesberg; DuPage County Board Member Liz Chaplain, and Moon Khan, a former York Township trustee, took turns to share their thoughts and shed light on the danger and constant state of fear undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers experience.
"That's why all of us are here tonight, and it's so wonderful to be able to come together with others who feel this," Stava-Murray said. "And, we must also talk about our experiences, what we hear tonight with our neighbors who might not know as much about it, with our family, with our friends."
Stava-Murray insisted that the Lights for Liberty vigil was one way to face the reality of the migrant detention centers "make sure it's just a news tagline here and there that we feel bad reading about, but we actually are taking actions."
With ICE raids looming, the vigil served as a clear reminder for attendees like Leonard and Casper that the fight is far from over. As the evening came to a close with a Oraciòn de un Inmigrante, or a prayer for Immigrants, the two lent their own voices and recited the words alongside many others, offering a sense of hope in a time of darkness.
"Listen to what the speakers say," Casper said of how people can help moving forward. "Volunteer. Go to the rallies. Spread the word. Be adamant. Write to your congressman.
"Do all of those things," she continued. "Don't think, 'Oh, many voice doesn't count. It's not going to count.' It is."