FARGO — Danilo Martinez, who moved to Fargo from El Salvador, told a crowd of about 300 at the Fargo Civic Center plaza Friday night, July 12, that they may be wondering what he was doing in the city.
It wasn't for the winter weather, he said, although he was getting used to it after being here a while.
The reason he came to the Lights for Liberty rally in Fargo, one of hundreds held across the country Friday, was to be united with others against "injustice" the southern border.
Martinez was referring to the children held at detention camps and the separation of families who trekked across Mexico to reach the U.S. border.
"I thought this was a country made of immigrants. Everybody wants to come to the U.S. to escape persecution," he said.
The reasons he said people are leaving Central America are "no jobs, no education, no health. Crime is going up every single day."
Central American parents look at their children and ask, "What should I give them tomorrow?" he said.
"There's only one decision and that is 'I better go to the U.S.,'" Martinez said, adding that is why caravans are crossing Mexico.
He urged the crowd to "be united," talk to the leaders and ask them "to end what is going on at the border."
"People are suffering," she said, noting that even the men and women of the Border Patrol are seeing high suicide rates and turnover in their ranks.
She read the names out loud of five young people, as they often do along the border to show they aren't forgotten. She lit a candle for each of them and filled five glasses of water in a symbolic gesture to migrants dying of dehydration in the Mexican desert trying to reach the U.S.
The ages of the five people whose names she read were 3 years old, 20 months, 20 years, 18 months and 22 years.
"They are all human beings, and they all have value and worth," she said.
Laetitia Hellerud Mizero, a native of Burundi who immigrated here as a refugee and is now an author, told the crowd she knows the feeling among parents who want to bring their children here.
She said she looked in the eyes of her 18-month-son years ago and thought about his future.
"And for me, there was no way I was going to raise my son in a country where he couldn't dream about tomorrow, in a country where he couldn't have plans," she said.
She broke into tears when she began talking about the border situation. What's happening there, she said, "questions our sense of humanity."
"It's appalling to me when people think that the families and children at the border are just trying to infiltrate the United States," she said. What they are doing is trying to gain asylum. "There is a legal process for that," she said.
Organizer and emcee the Rev. Tiffany Sundeen told the crowd at the beginning of the rally that despite the divisiveness in the Fargo-Moorhead community, she hoped the demand for ending the mistreatment of children and the separation of families was "one place where we can all come together."
However, as the rallies were taking place, The Washington Post was reporting Friday night that President Donald Trump was planning to have immigration authorities carry out mass arrests of migrants on Sunday. He said it was aimed at families that have received final deportation orders and was going to focus on 10 cities across the U.S. including Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Houston.
He focused on the criminal element in talking with reporters, telling the Post, "they're going to take criminals and put them in prison or put them in prison in the countries they came from."
Trump added, "We are really specifically looking for bad players, but we're also looking for people who came into our country not through a process, they just walked over a line, and they have to leave."
The rally organizers in Fargo emphasized they do not think of the border situation as political, but simply wanted the tearing apart of families and mistreatment of children in detention camps to end.
The Rev. Jessica Harris Daum, one of several religious leaders to address the crowd and a mother of three children, was one who said it was not a matter of politics.
All Americans shouldn't stand for the children to live like they are being treated, she said, with no soap or toothbrushes in some of the detention camps.
"Lives are hanging in the balance," Daum said.