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Houstonians march in protest of downtown ‘baby jail’

July 28, 2018

About 100 people marched through triple-digit temperatures Saturday to a weathered warehouse in downtown Houston in protest of a child immigrant shelter that might open at that location.

Activists from groups including FIEL, United We Dream and the Houston Autonomous Brown Berets, along with men, women and children, marched in a tight clump behind a blue cloth banner with “#AbolishICE” scrawled across it in large letters. They carried homemade signs reading “Keep families together” and “No baby jail” and chanted for “full equality” for immigrants as they meandered along a half-mile route from Settegast Park to 419 Emancipation Avenue.

State Sen. Sylvia Garcia encouraged the excited crowd to continue the fight to end family separation.

“Don’t think about the heat,” Garcia said. “Think about the kids in heat in cages somewhere in this state.”

Garcia also attended a vigil-turned-protest at the same site last month, after Southwest Key Programs, a Texas nonprofit with a contract to detain so-called unaccompanied minors, confirmed to the Chronicle that it signed a lease for the privately-owned downtown property, which has previously provided shelter for women, children and Houstonians forced from their homes due to Hurricane Harvey. Last month, Southwest Key Programs was seeking state childcare licensing to hold 240 children “0 to 17” in age.

Two days following Congress’ deadline for the reunification of separated families, the nonprofit was not able to be reached for comment on the current status of its plans for the Houston shelter.

FIEL Executive Director Cesar Espinosa riled up the crowd by proclaiming they will “keep the center from opening.”

“We need to make sure we don’t detain children in Houston,” Espinosa said. “ We need to make sure we don’t detain families in Houston. We need to make sure we stand on the right side of history.”

Substitute teacher Evelyn Silva was among the dozens to show up to the afternoon march. She said she immigrated from Honduras to the United States 29 years ago during the Nicaraguan Revolution as a college student. Silva voice beliefs that American support of corrupt Latin American governments is the “root cause” of immigration conflicts, citing the 2009 coup d’état in Honduras and a recent “illegal” presidential election.

“Democrats and Republicans share the same responsibility,” Silva said. “U.S. taxpayers need to do something.”

victoria.cheyne@chron.com

twitter.com/victoria_cheyne

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