The date was June 30, 2018. At least five thousand people gathered around the steps of the Martin Luther King Jr. Federal Building to protest the inhumane detainment of immigrants by government organizations. A series of the most revolutionary human rights’ cases from the past century were mashed together in the pool of posters and protesters flooding the court. Children as young as five years old held signs above their heads imprinted with thick, dark paint. They didn’t understand what was happening, but they knew that their voices mattered.
Junior Samay Patel marched in Raleigh, North Carolina with his family, where even the youngest members participated.
“My favorite part was seeing my 7-year-old cousin get involved and become passionate about the movement,” Patel said.
With children as young as Patel’s cousin being separated from their families at the U.S-Mexico border, it was important to his family that people witness them marching.
Junior Rujul Pandya marched in Atlanta alongside her peers. It wasn’t her first march. With movements like March for Our Lives and #MeToo gaining national recognition, she believes it’s important to consistently show support for causes she cares about because it results in real change.
“It’s not just about [the negative events that have happened], it’s about moving past what’s bad and making sure that we learn from our mistakes and make a better environment,” Pandya said.
The Atlanta Detention Center, operational since 2007, is a prison maintained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain illegal immigrants. Georgia detains the fourth greatest number of immigrants in the United States, only behind Texas, California, and Arizona. The detainees are often housed in metal cages and lack the necessary resources to survive. Abuse in Detention Centers ranges from sexual abuse to medical issues, but extended detainment is the second largest cause of documented abuse. The average length of an immigrant’s stay at a detention center in 2017 was 34 days, but that’s a 50% increase from 2016’s statistics.
On Saturday, the Atlanta Detention Center was surrounded by a massive crowd. The tallest figures were children perched on their parents’ shoulders straining to see above the throng. Their eyes met the gazes of the waving children peeping through the small, square windows that line the detention center. Shouts and chatter rippled through the crowd in every language imaginable. An elderly woman waved around a piece of paper with chants on it, asking if any teenagers knew the Chance the Rapper song the chants followed. Police cars occupied most of the available parking spots around the detention center, so dozens of people spilled out of the MARTA station.
Sophomore Jordan Anderson welcomed the sight of a cultured group of activists outside of Northview High School.
“My favorite part was looking at all of the diversity among protestors,” Anderson said. “It’s so inspiring.”
The entire half mile walk from the detention center to the U.S. District Court and MLK Federal Building was lined with people holding posters and uniting with the march. A man dressed in rags sitting on the side of the road pushed himself up and merged with the group, continuing a chant. At his side, a man juggling a flag and a cardboard box offered him a chicken wrap from Costco. The march was a community.
Congregating in front of the federal buildings, the crowd took up a couple of blocks. Through the chorus of indignant shouts, a single voice made itself heard. A Hispanic woman stood at a podium at the doors of the MLK Jr. Federal Building facing the U.S. District Court’s steps. Her small frame barely peeked over the stand, but she radiated confidence and resolve. She spoke in rapid-fire Spanish, piercing the still, humid air with eloquent words barbed with disgust. Her fierceness commanded respect and captivated the crowd. It wasn’t clear that she knew a word of English until the last sentence of her speech. In finality, she raised her fist and began to chant.
“Shame. Shame. Shame.”
It picked up.
Although she wasn’t the most prolific speaker that day, her words—or that single word—were perhaps the most memorable. Congressman John Lewis and House Representative Hank Johnson also took the stand to contribute to the chorus. Lewis, still politically active more than 50 years after he participated in the March on Washington, inspires students like Pandya to make a difference.
“It’s important to consistently participate in politics,” Pandya said. “no matter how old you are or where you’re from…[you can] add to the movement, give it numbers, and give it a voice so those in charge realize what we need as a nation.”
Although the situation is bleak, it causes students and prospective voters to scrutinize every move their Senators and Representatives make. Nearly half of Northview’s students will be eligible to vote in the 2020 election, and events like the march expose government officials and inform the public. Patel responded to the mistreatment with chilling assessment of President Trump’s agenda.
“I believe in a President who cares,” Patel said. “not one who breaks hearts.”