by Victoria Alfred-Levow
Last Thursday, at a vigil for detained immigrant Jonatan Palacios, speakers addressed a crowd of about 275 protesters at the Haverford Train Station.
“We stand united in the belief that these kinds of policies that led to Jonatan’s arrest rip apart the fabric of our community,” said Amanda Levinson, a leader of the Havertown-Area Community Action Network (H-CAN), which organized the vigil.
The gathering at the train station fell nearly a month after ICE agents detained 27-year-old Palacios outside his Haverford apartment on May 11. Palacios had immigrated from Honduras at age 16. His wife, Lillie Williams, said that she and her husband, who is described as an excellent student, with no criminal record, had filed a petition this past October to begin the process of making him a legal resident. According to a June 2 post on Williams’ YouCaring fundraising page, Palacios is currently in York County Prison, with an official court date of August 1.
Speakers at the vigil quoted thoughts about activism and community from Martin Luther King, Jr., Pablo Neruda, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and others, as rushing trains occasionally drowned out their words. Many of their listeners wore blue, Palacios’ favorite color according to the vigil’s Facebook event.
Williams thanked the audience for attending the vigil and described the events of her husband’s arrest:
He had just finished taking his final exams the night before it happened — and suddenly our lives were just abruptly changed, and I don’t know if they’ll ever quite be the same again.
Williams stated that her family’s story was not new:
Many people see law and order as something that is black and white, but if you look through the history of our nation’s laws, you will see a different story. Laws that forced people to sit in the back of the bus because of the color of their skin were not right.
One of the religious leaders who commented on the plight of undocumented immigrants was Reconstructioinst Rabbi Shelly Barnathan, who is the daughter of Holocaust survivors. After the vigil, Barnathan said that she hoped more people in the audience would get involved in the defense of immigrants, calling the cause “imperative” and feeling the responsibility as the child of Holocaust survivors to “bear witness for the next generation.”
Political leaders expressing their views included State Sen. Daylin Leach, who is widely expected to announce a run for Congress (PA-7) soon, and Lara Flynn, a regional representative for U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (PA).
Protesters left the vigil with a flyer from H-CAN, with lists of political actions they could take to “build solidarity on issues of immigrant justice,” including supporting or fighting certain bills and donating to immigrant legal services groups. The flyer also offered an open invitation to H-CAN’s July 16th general meeting, which will focus on immigration and refugee issues.
Levinson’s introduction was translated from English to Spanish, Church of the Open Door’s Rev. Lydia Muñoz sang a few lines of a Spanish church song meaning, “May not your hope fall and may you keep looking in faith,” and a few of the other speakers used Spanish words in their remarks. But overall, the speeches were in English and directed at American citizens to fight the federal government’s immigration policies.
The organizing body, H-CAN, works on various projects of civic engagement and activism around the Havertown area, said Lisa Taglag, a Havertown resident and member of H-CAN’s committees on immigrants and refugee rights.
“I am so horrified by what happened,” Taglag said. “To know that someone was taken […] right here in our community — someone who has no criminal record, […] I find it absolutely unacceptable.”
Vanessa Morales, a Haverford College sophomore from Santa Ana, California, had a personal answer for why she attended.
“I come from a family of immigrants, but who doesn’t?” Morales said.
Attending the vigil was a continuation of conversations Morales is already having. She works with a law firm that specializes in immigration law, and she took a class last semester about that topic with her friend Lili Domenick, who also attended the vigil.
“I think that this issue, recognizing people who are undocumented, is something that our communities fail to do a lot,” said Domenick, a West Chester resident and a Haverford College sophomore.