Jay Stittleburg, a local U.S. Navy veteran and former candidate for Montgomery County judge in 2018, was blunt in his assessment of the immigrant detention center situation on the southern border during a rally Friday night near The Woodlands to protest family separations.
“It is important that we use our voices and stand up against things that are immoral and inhumane,” Stittleburg told a crowd of around 100 protesters. “I am ashamed of the country I love and that I signed a piece of paper saying I’d give my life for it. We are failing miserably in God’s eyes. Get out there and say things and don’t be afraid to talk to people. Make them defend their stance, because most cannot.”
Stittleburg was among those who lined a grassy area adjacent to Sawdust Road a few miles from the border of The Woodlands near Interstate 45, waving signs and holding battery-powered candles in the air to protest federal border policies. The event was part of the nationwide Lights for Liberty protests, which were aimed at raising awareness for the alleged inhumane and overcrowded conditions in detention centers that dot the United States border with Mexico.
The event was jointly organized by local mother Cathy Jende as well as representatives from the Democratic Club of The Woodlands. Protesters gathered early Friday evening and spent about two hours along the busy thoroughfare making drivers and others passing by aware of their feelings and opposition to President Donald Trump’s immigration policies with colorful signs and decorated clothing.
Among the protesters were Celeste and Greg McDonell, who both attend the Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church in The Woodlands. The couple said they are shocked at the use of the detention centers and the policies of families being separated.
Waving a small sign that said, “Schools not cells,” Greg McDonell said he is part of the church’s “SEE” team, which means Social, Economic and Environmental justice.
“This is a social justice issue for us, asylum seekers are not illegal. We need to increase the numbers of judges,” Greg McDonell said. “The fear mongering that is going on, the intimidation…they said the (ICE) raids were supposed to start Sunday, but we heard from organizers that they had already begun secretly earlier this week, and that is all about creating a fear factor.”
As he waved his sign at passing cars, Greg McDonell said he has spoken with lawyers and other advocates helping undocumented immigrants and he said those people had told him that there are, “high levels of anxiety,” among the immigrant communities of the Houston region. He also advocated for better due process for migrants who cross the border illegally and also for changes to immigration laws.
“I believe we are abusing them,” he said of the migrants currently in what has been described as overcrowded, unsanitary conditions. “Those folks coming from Central America have a reason for asylum.”
Another protester, Kara Cook of The Woodlands, said she came to the event because she saw news reports about the conditions alleged to exist inside the numerous detainment centers.
“I am very concerned about diabetic migrants, because I have a friend with diabetes and understand the importance of medications. I heard it was difficult for migrants to get diabetes medicines,” Cook said. “I started seeing how migrant children were being mistreated and separated from families. I believe migrants are humans, too.”
Following about 90 minutes of sign waving along Sawdust Road, the protesters shifted locations to a nearby bank parking lot and began a series of speeches, kicked off by a call to action from Robin Fulford, the president of the Democractic Club of The Woodlands, who described a report she had received from others who had visited the detention centers.
“Not only is this a crisis in morality, this is showing the world who we really are,” Fulford said.
Stittleburg spoke after Fulford, imploring the protesters to continue speaking out, confronting people who may support Trump’s immigration policies and to keep fighting for what is right.
“I am here for every single one of those families sitting in a cage. This is really a refugee crisis, they are coming here to give their children a hope for the future better than they could ever have in their home countries,” he said. “This is immoral, inhumane treatment of migrants who are fleeing violence, gangs, murder and rape to seek a better life.”
As the protest came to an end, Sarah Prickett, a developmental minister with the Northwoods Unitarian Universalist Church in The Woodlands, gave one last message to the crowd.
“I cannot turn off my awareness to the injustices our country is doing,” Prickett said.