Immigrant advocates, Dayton faith leaders, University of Dayton students and faculty gathered Monday night for a candlelight immigration vigil outside the Butler County Correctional Complex in Hamilton.
Part of the jail complex is used by United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Dayton associate political science professor Natalie Hudson, who recently toured the Butler County jail, says more than 100 immigrants are currently being held at the facility. She says she hopes the vigil calls attention to the ongoing detention of migrants, including children, across the country and particularly at the southwest U.S. border.
“In Ohio we may feel like we are far away from this – this is not the U.S. Mexico border, or New York, for that matter,” Hudson says. “This event demonstrates that people in our area deeply care about these issues and that we’re willing to come out on a cold December night to exercise our rights and stand in solidarity with immigrants.”
Hudson, who heads the University of Dayton’s Human Rights Studies Program, also helped lead a May human rights-observer delegation to the U.S.-Mexico border region, including to El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, to conduct interviews with migrants and others. She says the experience helped inspire Monday's vigil.
In a statement, organizers say the Trump administration's policy of detaining and separating families, "and the use of tear-gas against asylum seekers at the border and around the country are violations of international human rights law and do not align with Catholic social justice teaching and values."
The Trump administration recently announced it would require asylum-seeking migrants to enter the U.S. through only legal border crossings, as NPR News has reported, a policy which is now under consideration in the courts.
Current law allows migrants to request asylum regardless of whether they entered the country through a designated port of arrival.
President Trump has made tightening border security and cracking down on immigration a continued focus of his administration. The administration has also said changes to asylum law are necessary to prevent what it says are abuses in the current system.
Organizers of Monday's Butler County Correctional Complex vigil say it's meant to mark International Human Rights Day and the 70th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“Seventy years ago, the world agreed to a set of human rights values as a roadmap to peace and dignity,” says Human Rights Studies professor Joel Pruce. “What we witness today—indefinite detention of over ten thousand children, families torn apart, asylum seekers attacked—is a clear violation of those ideals and cannot continue. It is up to us, through our voices and actions, to join together and register our protest.”
Speakers were scheduled to share information about current U.S. immigration enforcement policies, and observations gathered during the recent Ohio delegation trip to the U.S.-Mexico border.
The roster included Pruce, Alysa Medina from the University of Dayton School of Law, Sandra Ramirez with the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center, Father Satish Joseph from Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church, Pastor Lesley Jones from Truth and Destiny Covenant Ministries, University of Dayton Anthropology associate professor Miranda Hallett and Reverend Alan Dicken from Carthage Christian Church.
The hour-long vigil, which included songs and prayers, was conducted in both English and Spanish.