By Nick Brothers
Standing with signs that read “Stop Separating Families,” and “Immigration is an American Experience,” Northwest Arkansas residents gathered in solidarity at a fasting vigil for Latino migrant children Monday, July 21.
The event, Standing Watch With All The Children, was organized by a collaboration between the Omni Center for Peace, Justice and Ecology and Fayetteville Free Zone. About 25 to 30 people were in attendance.
Within the fiscal year of 2014, about 77,200 unaccompanied children from Honduras, El Salvador, are expected to be apprehended at the Mexico-U.S. border, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Gang violence in central America is driving many of these children to flee to other countries, and about 36 percent of the children had at least one parent in the United States according to a study by a U.N. office of the High Commissioner for Refugees.
The influx of unaccompanied alien minors has caused a growing humanitarian crisis for officials at the border to handle. President Obama requested $3.7 billion from Congress to help address this, but so far the House of Representatives have hesitated on approving the funds.
“On a national level it really pains me,” said David Garcia, organizer of the event. “The local response makes me proud of Fayetteville, and to see the support is beautiful. I hope we can build on it further.”
Those who attended were asked to fast their lunch and donate their lunch money. Donations totaled $335.70, and the money will be sent to Sacred Heart Catholic Church in McAllen, Texas, for their inspiring stories of providing food, water, and clothing to the refugee children in their community who are in need, said David Garcia, organizer of the event.
Fernando Garcia, Omni Center president, called for refugee status of the migrant children and said the crisis was an international issue of love and justice.
Mayor Lioneld Jordan was there to speak on behalf of the city of Fayetteville. He said he wants Fayetteville to be a sanctuary for the migrant children.
“The right thing is to take care of those children,” Jordan said. “I just want to help, and I just want to support them. We will take care of them.”
Local musician Adam Cox was in attendance as well, and after proclaiming himself a fifth generation Oklahoman, he led the crowd in a sing-along of the Woody Guthrie classics, “This Land is Your Land” and “Dustbowl Refugee.”
“It’s a humanitarian crisis plain and simple,” Cox said. “When you’re left with nothing you don’t have much of a choice.”
After the speeches, crowd members formed into breakout sessions to discuss ways for the community to help out. Rachel Huff, one of the attendees, held a sign that read “Immigration is an American Experience.”
“Most people in the country came from somewhere else, and I think we need to remember that,” Huff said. “We need to start showing our support. I can’t imagine having to put my child through something like this. I come from the belief that you treat others the way you would like to be treated.”