The people outside St. Vincent de Paul Church in Petaluma turned as one, extending their hands in the general direction of the southern U.S. border, to which, since October, 57,000 children have made a dangerous trek from Central America. The children have ignited a national political debate about immigration and refugee policy.
“This is a way to say you have value, you are welcome, we have open arms,” said Mario Castillo of the North Bay Organizing Project, his amplified voice booming. “We are all human. Somos humanos.”
About 100 people attended the vigil and rally put on by the Organizing Project, a coalition of activist, nonprofit and religious groups.
A parade of speakers implored the crowd to become politically active on behalf of the children from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, who are mostly unaccompanied by parents or guardians and fleeing violence and poverty. Those calls blended with others to change immigration laws in general.
“We know that God doesn’t say, ‘Let pity roll down.’ It’s justice that rolls down — and that changes the order of things,” said Lindsey Kerr, associate pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Santa Rosa.
“I want you to take the love and compassion you are feeling and turn it into action,” Kerr said.
In front of her was a large pile of supplies brought by participants in the rally: diapers, food, clothing.
The supplies are to be sent to an allied group in San Diego for distribution to the children, whom many supporters have termed refugees.
“It’s a collective prayer for all the children that are being sent to us,” said Leticia Romero, North Bay Organizing Project president.
“These are unaccompanied children with just the clothes on their backs,” Romero said. “I’m hoping our politicians and our voting neighbors will open their hearts and minds and do the right thing for these children.”
She and others said that providing foster homes for the Central American children would be a good step. They also announced their support for a bill Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, on Friday announced he will pursue in August to provide support for undocumented children in California.
The bill would ask the federal government to allow such children to stay in the state and make resources available to them.
“We want to see as many emails and calls as possible in support; we’d love to be flooded with letters,” Meg Healy, an intern in Levine’s office, told the crowd.
“I really like what Marc Levine’s trying to do,” said Fabiola Espinoza of Santa Rosa, who brought toys and macaroni and cheese, and was there because, she said, the children’s situation resonates with her.
“I was brought over the border by two strangers,” she said. She was 2 at the time, she said, and with her brother, who was 4; their parents, who were newly arrived in the United States, had sent for them.
“We could easily have been abandoned, or kidnapped, or taken into custody and sent back,” said Espinoza, now a naturalized citizen who works for a Windsor nonprofit.
The biggest applause came for Mari Robledo, a member of the Graton Day Labor Center, who said: “As a mother, I can feel the pain and anguish these women feel as they worry about their children. We are all being impacted.”