As Atlanta immigration raids loom, hundreds protest at Lights for Liberty event on Buford Highway

The national event was organized to protest the Trump administration’s treatment of immigrants

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Lights for Liberty Atlanta immigration raid protest
State Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero was the event’s keynote speaker.

Photograph by Sonam Vashi

As Atlanta’s immigrant communities prepare for raids by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials scheduled for Sunday, hundreds of immigration advocates gathered at Plaza Fiesta on stormy Friday evening as part of the national Lights for Liberty event protesting the Trump administration’s treatment of immigrants.

A long list of speakers—including four local candidates who recently announced 2020 bids—stood outside Plaza Fiesta, the one-stop-shop Latino marketplace on Buford Highway, for the event, organized by several immigrant advocacy groups including Project South, New Sanctuary Movement of Atlanta, and Los Vecinos de Buford Highway.

Lights for Liberty Atlanta immigration raid protest
Martha Shockey, a leader with progressive advocacy group Indivisible Georgia-04, created this cut-out evoking the blankets given to immigrants at detention centers. “I’m heartbroken and disgusted with the situation at the border,” says the Clarkston resident.

Photograph by Sonam Vashi

Lights for Liberty Atlanta immigration raid protestLights for Liberty Atlanta immigration raid protest
A display intended to evoke the immigrant children kept at detention centers.

Photograph by Max Blau

On Thursday, the New York Times reported that ICE would be raiding 10 major cities—including Atlanta, Miami, Houston, and Chicago—during the next few days, targeting more than 2,000 undocumented immigrants who’ve been ordered deported but are still in the country. The raids could include “collateral” deportations, the Times reported, meaning immigrants who aren’t targets but are on the scene of the raids could also be detained. Supported by President Donald Trump, the raids were originally ordered a month ago but were delayed after immigration officials resisted them.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms appeared on CNN, MSNBC, and NBC’s Meet the Press Friday to denounce the raids. “We don’t need it, and we don’t want it in Atlanta,” she said on MSNBC. “If anything, this hampers our ability to address crime in our communities, because you are driving communities underground . . . it further victimizes them.”

Lights for Liberty Atlanta immigration raid protest
Roxana Chicas, who has temporary protected immigration status (TPS), works with the New Sanctuary Movement of Atlanta and spoke about how ICE’s “most powerful weapon is fear.”

Photograph by Sonam Vashi

Lights for Liberty Atlanta immigration raid protest
Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry, who recently announced his run for U.S. Senate, speaks.

Photograph by Max Blau

At Plaza Fiesta, thunderstorms unloaded on the crowd and doused most of the speakers, who sought shelter under the mall’s roof.

Two challengers for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by David Perdue—Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry and former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson—both spoke at the event, as did Rebekah Cohen Morris, who cofounded community organization Los Vecinos de Buford Highway and is running for Doraville City Council.

Lights for Liberty Atlanta immigration raid protest
Lopez Romero becomes emotional when she talks about her personal stake in the current humanitarian crisis at the border. “I could have been one of those children.”

Photograph by Sonam Vashi

State Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero (D-Norcross) is running for Congress in Georgia’s 7th district—which, last year, was the tightest House race in the country—and keynoted the event. “We can’t just mobilize in rallies,” she said. “What we really need to do is to be at the Capitol . . . and support the nonprofit organizations that are providing pro-bono and low-bono legal representation for those [who need it.]”

Born in Mexico, Lopez Romero moved to the United States when she was five, graduated from Cross Keys High School, and became an immigration attorney. In 2016, she became the first Latina to be elected to the state Legislature. For her, the ICE raids are personal: She referenced journalist Julia Le Duc’s now-infamous photo of a drowned father and nearly two-year-old daughter crossing the Rio Grande last month: “If I hadn’t gotten the opportunity to become a citizen . . . I could have been one of those children.”

Atlanta city officials and immigration advocates have been circulating “Know Your Rights” tip sheets: Don’t open your door unless an officer has a warrant signed by a judge; Stay silent; Avoid leaving your house unless necessary; Videotape or document any incidents with your phone.

This weekend, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR) will run a hotline at 770-457-5232 for tips about ICE enforcement and will continue its neighborhood ICE watch, warning that raids often happen early in the morning, starting around 5 a.m. Project South will be dispensing “Know Your Rights” materials at South Asian community locations, like Patel Plaza and Global Mall.

Lights for Liberty Atlanta immigration raid protest
Georgia State University student Chase Donnell (left) and Logan Douglas (right) of Decatur light candles at the end of the Lights for Liberty event. Coming here “felt like one of the few concrete things we could do,” Douglas said.

Photograph by Sonam Vashi

Lights for Liberty Atlanta immigration raid protest
The Atlanta Resistance Revival Chorus closed the event with “We Shall Overcome.”

Photograph by Max Blau

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