Around 100 people rallied in downtown Santa Maria on Friday to protest inhumane treatment of immigrants held in detention centers around the country.

The rally was part of “Lights for Liberty,” which was organized by activists to call for an end to migrant detention camps.

Similar rallies took place in hundreds of cities across the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and other countries.

On the Central Coast, rallies were also held in San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande, Carpinteria and Santa Barbara.

On Friday, Santa Maria demonstrators rallied at Perlman Park before marching down Broadway to City Hall and looping back around.

Participants held signs that called for the closing of the detention centers, honoring immigrant rights and ending the practice of separating families at the border.

CAUSE community organizer Abraham Melendrez, one of the rally coordinators, said Friday’s demonstration was held to call on federal leaders to put an end to the detention centers.

“We’ve seen the inhumane conditions, we’ve seen children dying in detention,” he said. “This is something we, as human beings, see as atrocious, and we want to see it end.”

The “Lights for Liberty” rallies were held following reports of squalid conditions at facilities run by U.S. border authorities.

Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General released a report calling for immediate action to relieve severe overcrowding at several detention centers in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. 

According to the report prepared by DHS’s internal watchdog, several of the facilities visited by inspectors were not providing children access to showers or clean clothes and had single adults detained for days in standing-room-only conditions.

According to NBC News, seven migrant children have died after being taken into custody by U.S. border officials since last year.

“We demand that these concentration camps be closed because, ‘Never again,’ means now,” Melendrez said.

Santa Maria 3rd District Councilwoman Gloria Soto, one of the speakers at the rally, said all people have the right to pursue a better life.

“We recognize that seeking asylum is a universal human right,” she said to applause.

Many Santa Maria residents are also acutely impacted by the White House’s immigration policy, Soto said, adding that recent announcements of planned raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had instilled fear into the local immigrant community.

“Here in Santa Maria — a city made of hardworking immigrants — families are living in fear,” she said. “Parents are afraid to head to work, children are afraid to go to school and many of our residents are afraid to answer the door.”

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Razi Syed covers Santa Maria City Government for Lee Central Coast Newspapers.  Follow him on Twitter @razisyed


City Government

Razi Syed covers city government for the Santa Maria Times. He is a graduate of Fresno State University and New York University.