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'Lights for Liberty' Rally Draws Crowd to Pier

Jul 14, 2019 09:51AM ● By Jeanne Fratello

Photo credit: Leah Szabo

"Lights for Liberty," a rally to protest unsanitary conditions at detention camps and the inhumane treatment of asylum seekers, drew a crowd of more than 200 people to the Manhattan Beach Pier on Friday night.

Speakers included former NASA astronaut John Daniel "Danny" Olivas; Elvis Martinez, a 15-year-old from El Salvador who spoke about his experience in detention; Sonia Nazario, a Manhattan Beach resident and Pulitzer Prize winning author of Enrique’s Journey; and local residents Gabriela Mohaupt, Nina Trieu Tarnay, Arita Wong, and Janet London.

"I have had the privilege of looking back at our home from 250 miles above the planet," said Olivas. "I can say, with no doubt in my mind, that the differences we see between and among ourselves, are not seen by my maker."

"This is our only home and we are all brothers and sisters," Olivas continued. "As I looked back at earth, I reflected with the knowledge, that the bipeds which inhabit my home, can choose to inflict violence and terror on one another, or we can choose to love one another, recognizing that in the eyes of our creator, we are all related. I ask each and every person here today, as well as every American, to do what they can to work hard and never give up to make this country the loving, compassionate, welcoming place that so many of our immigrant kin found to make their home, and gave us all the opportunities that we enjoy today."

Martinez spoke of how he lived in El Salvador with his grandmother after his mother left to find a safer life in the United States, and how he faced death threats from gang members every day for refusing to join a gang. He left El Salvador for Texas in January 2017, and wound up in a detention center in Brownsville, Texas.  "Some kids cried for parents all night and day," he recalled. "We couldn't go outside or get much food."

But Martinez called himself "one of the luckiest ones" because he was reunited with his mother in Los Angeles. "I just graduated from middle school with a 3.5. GPA. I will start high school in the fall. I will keep my promise to my grandmother that I will work hard, study hard, and be a good American," he said.

Nazario called the issue "an issue of humanity."

"I'm not in favor of open borders. I'm not an open borders gal," said Nazario. "But I do favor following our own laws - our laws - on asylum in this country...treating people who run from harm with compassion, for God's sake. We passed these laws after World War II. We turned away a ship with hundreds of Jews on board and they were murdered when they went back to Germany. We said after the war 'Never again' and the United states proudly became a leader in the modern refugee movement."

Nazario continued: "We must find our hearts and change how we are treating fellow human beings, especially children. If we don't, we lose what makes us who we are as a people."

She concluded: "We are violating our laws about how asylum seekers are treated. Fight for these children as if they were your own children."

The rally concluded with the singing of "America the Beautiful." 

It was one of at least 20 in the Los Angeles area, and one of more than 800 held around the country.

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