Vigil to highlight abuses at border

‘Lights for Liberty’ event set for Friday evening at downtown Camas church

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The Camas Friends Church will host a "Lights for Liberty" candlelit vigil, co-sponsored by the Children's Home Society of Southwest Washington, at 8:30 p.m., Friday, July 12, to highlight abuses happening to asylum seekers and refugees on the southern United States border. The vigil will be held in the church parking lot, located in downtown Camas, at 1004 N.E. Fourth Ave. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record)

A Camas church will host a “Lights for Liberty” vigil to highlight abuses faced by asylum seekers and refugees on the United States’ southern border and call for an end to human detention camps being run by the U.S. government.

The Camas Friends Church plans to hold a peaceful, candlelit vigil from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m., Friday, July 12, in the church parking lot, at 1004 N.E. Fourth Ave., in downtown Camas. There will be speakers and singing with a moment of silence at 9 p.m.

The Camas vigil is one of hundreds expected to take place across the country on July 12 in a nationwide effort to draw attention to the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers being held at the southern border.

Janet Grove, a member of the Camas Friends’ Peace and Social Concerns Committee, said she felt compelled to organize a “Lights for Liberty” vigil in Camas.

“In the last few years, there have been lots of things that have troubled me and made me want to speak out or take action,” Grove told the Post-Record.

Grove cited the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which far-right groups chanted “Jews will not replace us” while carrying flaming tiki torches through the University of Virginia’s campus and a Nazi-sympathizer ran his car through a group of counter-protestors, killing 32-year-old paralegal Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others; as well as the Feb. 14, 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17 students and staff and President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the landmark 2015 climate change agreement known as the Paris Agreement as things that have troubled her over the past few years.

“It is easy to see so many troubling things and think, ‘How can I possibly make a difference?'” Grove said. “Even when the opportunity to take action arises, I question myself and think, ‘Why this? Why now?’ And the answer is, ‘Because I can. Because every action I take to make a difference, to make allies, to make a voice of change heard, is another drop in the bucket that just might make a difference.”

When it came to calling attention to the detention centers on the southern U.S. border, Grove said she had to take action.

“I hear stories about children sleeping on cold, hard floors … without access to toothbrushes or soap. I hear stories of parents who don’t know where their children are. I see images of people so desperate for the possibility of a decent life for their children that they will cross raging rivers and dry deserts,” Grove said. “I don’t have all the answers, but I know we have the resources to treat migrants and asylum seekers with dignity and respect. I’m not saying we should be lawless and have no borders, but we are still the richest nation on Earth, and we need to do better.”

Camas Friends Pastor Matt Boswell has been working with Grove to organize the July 12 vigil and said he became interested in hosting an event calling for an end to the detention centers at the border after realizing the action is “the kind of thing Jesus-y people ought to be doing — demonstrating their commitment to Jesus’ way of love through advocating for the dignity and well-being of those most at risk of being oppressed or excluded from the privileges many of us take for granted.”

“I’m participating in the vigil because I lament the fact that a good portion of our country has responded to migrants and refugees with fear, scapegoating or cold indifference,” Boswell told the Post-Record. “I want to witness an alternative posture of courage, welcome and active compassion.”

The vigil is not designed to be an anti-Trump rally or a space for people to advocate for things like abolishing ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement), Grove said, but rather a space for Camas-Washougal community members to “stand in solidarity with the hundreds of other vigils happening across the country at the same time.”

“We welcome messages like ‘End human detention camps,’ ‘Treat all people with dignity,’ ‘All children deserve care and comfort’ or things of that nature,” Grove said.

People interested in attending are asked to bring a candle if they have one (or use one of the candles provided by the church), park on neighboring streets and show up at the church parking lot by 8:30 p.m., Friday.

Andrew Tucker, community director of the Children’s Home Society of Washington, said his group also will take part in the vigil.

“Children’s Home Society of Washington’s mission is to develop healthy children, create strong families, build engaged communities, and speak and advocate for children. We believe that when communities invest in children, the entire community reaps the benefits of that investment when they grow to become happy, productive adults. Conversely, many scientific studies indicate that when children and families are subjected to cruel mistreatment, children’s development is disrupted in ways that are painful not just for children and families, but also affect the communities in which they live. Because of this, we feel obligated to join our neighbors in the Camas-Washougal area in speaking out against inhumane treatment of children and families at the southern U.S. border,” Tucker said.

He added that a growing number of U.S. children come from immigrant families.

“Roughly nine million young children under age 8 — approximately 26 percent of all young children — live with one or more immigrant parents. The vast majority of these children — 94 percent — are U.S. citizens,” Tucker said. “As a large segment of our young child population, the experiences, development and education of children of immigrants are consequential for our entire country. Our future as a community is inextricably tied to their health and well-being, as well as their success in school and later careers.”

Vancouver pediatrician Dr. Mari Kay Evans-Smith also said she plans to take part in the Camas vigil on Friday.

“As a Quaker and pediatrician I feel compelled and responsible to advocate for all children,” Evans-Smith told the Post-Record. “The atrocities happening at our border against refugee children are cruel and inhumane and must stop. We know that this level of toxic stress can cause an indelible imprint on the developing brain and is linked to numerous health issues including heart disease and mental illness, yet this abuse continues. It is easy to become complacent and feel discouraged as our government continues to allow this maltreatment of migrant people despite so many speaking out. Yet, we must stand together as one voice and continue to advocate to our congressional representatives for change. This vigil is a chance to speak out collectively.”

Many of the vigil organizers and those who plan to attend say the most-often question they hear regarding the situation at the border is along the lines of “How can the United States be expected to accommodate every person who wants to come into our country?”

Evans-Smith said she thinks that line of questioning misses the point of what’s happening on the southern U.S. border.

“These are complex questions that need new envisioning answers, but they are missing the point about what is actually happening now — the horrendous abuse of people that are already here, many who are children sent without parents, who are trying to escape terrible conditions,” she said.

“We need to send a message that citizens should be allowed to donate food, clothing and supplies more directly to those in need. Trained medical and mental health professionals should be attending to these children,” Evans-Smith added. “And most of all, these children should immediately be reunited with family, if available, including being allowed to remain with older siblings during their period of processing. We need to advocate for legal, safe and humane ways for people to immigrate to the United States.”

Tucker and Boswell agree.

“We hope to help spread the message: treating all children and families with dignity and compassion is not only the right thing to do, but essential to the health of our communities,” Tucker said.

“There is a myth that newcomers are the problem threatening our quality of life, a kind of scapegoating that has misdiagnosed who the true villains are in our economic woes. I believe that we are not threatened by the ambitions and hopes of outsiders; we are threatened by the greed and fear of insiders,” Boswell added. “There is a myth that what is happening at the border is ‘not that bad,’ maybe a result of a kind of mistrust of journalism or because we just don’t think we’re capable of doing things that are that bad. I want people to know that it is real, and it is bad, even as I believe humans are fundamentally good and capable of doing better. We need to do better.”

Asked what he would like to see the July 12 vigil accomplish, the pastor said he hopes the Camas event will draw people from many spiritual traditions as well as non-religious community members for the common goal of showing love for one’s neighbors.

“I hope our vigil acts as a beginning, raising the consciousness of our community about this urgent human rights issue and ultimately leading to further, practical actions (such as) donating, writing to our representatives, policy change, etcetera. I hope collaboration among people of faith and socially conscious people of no particular faith grows as we continue to respond to injustices in our world in a constructive, caring manner.”

The Camas vigil will coincide with another Southwest Washington “Lights for Liberty” event organized by OneAmerica, MoveOn and the League of United Latin American Citizens. That event, planned for 8:30 to 10 p.m., July 12, at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, off East Fourth Plain Boulevard in Vancouver, also will include speakers and singers — as well as a moment of silence at 9 p.m. to call attention to the treatment of migrants and asylum seekers.

To learn more about the “Lights for Liberty” vigils taking place across the U.S., visit To learn more about the Camas vigil — or to RSVP for the event — visit 2273400556214016.