Nashville: Hundreds demand immediate closing of concentration camps
At the Nashville Lights for Liberty vigil and march. | Melanie Bender / PW

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—It was a hot, muggy Southern evening as some 500 supporters gathered on June 12 to protest the concentration camps holding children and adult men and women in unspeakable conditions on the border. The national protest was spearheaded by Lights for Liberty, a coalition of progressive forces—many of whom are mothers—dedicated to the fundamental democratic principle that all human beings have a right to life , liberty, and dignity. Local support for the protest included the American Indian Coalition, the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, and the Tennessee Anti-Racist Network. Many impassioned speeches were given decrying the inhuman conditions in the camps of horror.

The Nashville Lights for Liberty Vigil to End Human Detention Camps was only one of over 700 held in cities and towns across the U.S. and hundreds more worldwide. Many of the signs here included demands such as “Abolish ICE” and “Never Again is Now.” The American Indian Coalition held up signs that included “ No one is illegal on stolen land” and “Close the fascist concentration death camps now.”

There was also a ceremony held at the beginning of the vigil by the Calpulli Ilhuicamina Aztec Dancers, Indigenous performers from south of the border. The vigil was held at the Public Square in the city, in front of the Metropolitan Courthouse. Many of the same people at Friday’s protest had gathered to demonstrate last year in June when over 5,000 marched in Nashville demanding an end to Trump’s family separation policy.

The vigil holders were Latino, Indigenous Native American, African-American, Asian, and white. A caucasian speaker emphasized the importance of those with “white privilege” to stand up against the oppression of people of color. Others clearly pointed out that the threatened aggression of the ICE raids against migrants was only the beginning of neo-fascist campaigns that would eventually be directed against all the anti-fascist, anti-racist people of this country. Parallels were drawn to the Nazi campaigns of the 1930s that plunged the entire developed world into the conflagration of World War.

Notice was taken by one speaker that, as the United States is the most powerful capitalist state in the history of this planet, another term for Trump could well-nigh presage an unparalleled disaster for the entire world. Speaker after speaker poignantly expressed their heartfelt feelings that the concentration camps must be closed and closed now. Notice was also made of the lack of local media coverage of the massive protest. One speaker characterized these news outlets as the “lowdown, local racist news media.”

Speakers also mentioned that the private prison company CoreCivic , which is headquartered in Nashville, has a multimillion-dollar contract with ICE. One speaker shouted that ICE must be driven out of Nashville and was loudly cheered by the protesters.

At the end of the vigil, members of the Tennessee Anti-Racist Network led the assembly to the Hill Detention Center, a few blocks away from the Courthouse. This center, maintained by the Davidson County Sheriff’s Department, is one of those where migrants are taken and detained for ICE. The protest engaged in human rolling blockades of traffic at intersections on the way to the detention center. A petition was delivered to the Sheriff’s Office.

There is a strong suspicion among activists here that the Sheriff’s Department has some type of agreement to cooperate with ICE, so another demand of the protesters was that the county cease any and all cooperation with ICE.

The protest continued for another hour or so at the detention center with more speakers, including those who had not spoken on the Courthouse steps. At the Hill Center, the police told the march organizers that the protesters could stand on the sidewalk but not in the street. The organizers responded with “Stand where you want. There are just too many of us for them to arrest.”

Serving as a backdrop to the Light for Liberty rallies was Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to detention facilities on the border. Conditions there were so abominable that not even a much-anticipated farce could be perpetrated. News reports abundantly illustrated 400 migrant men held in a large cage that was so overcrowded they could not even lie down. Even if they could repose, no pillows or blankets were provided, leaving only the cold concrete floor for slumber.

A reporter traveling with Pence described an all-male detention center as emitting a horrendous stench from swelteringly hot temperatures. The Border Patrol supervisor who escorted Pence on this tour admitted that the men in custody had not been provided showers in 10 to 20 days.

The government’s own reports, as well as those of pediatricians who toured the border facilities, amplified in detail the worsening conditions: The Trump administration continues to separate children from their parents at the border, there are facilities where single adults are held in standing room only conditions for days at a time, overflowing toilets, reports of sexual abuse, detainees standing on toilets to obtain breathing space, limiting access to the toilets, no toilet paper, open packages of raw chicken leaking blood all over refrigeration units, slimy foul-smelling lunch meat, moldy bread, lights on 24 hours a day, no adequate access to medical care.

The stench is so bad at some centers that the detention guards wear face masks. Even animals in shelters in the U.S. are treated better than the hapless refugees.

At the Nashville Lights for Liberty vigil and march. | Melanie Bender / PW

If all of this were not proof substantiating the claim of “concentration camps,” a new report now surfacing from the Office of Inspector General on El Paso del Norte issued in May, read as follows: “We are concerned that overcrowding and prolonged detention represent an immediate risk to the health and safety not just of the detainees, but also DHS agents and officers. Border Patrol management on site said there is a high incidence of illness among their staff.” This is a U.S. government agency’s report.

The conditions are so horrendous that not only are the migrants at risk, but also even those who come in contact with them on a protracted basis. Small wonder the children are dying. This is obviously intentional on the part of this administration and yet the occupant of the White House, Trump, recently stated that media accounts of the holding centers were “exaggerated” and that they are “beautifully run.”

It was in recognition of this administration’s hateful, fascist policies that the protesters in Nashville angrily and militantly added their voices to the chorus of countless thousands across the nation and around the world to demand the closing of the border “death camps.” Further, there was speculation, in hindsight, in the Nashville community that the reason for the fizzling of Trump’s abortive ICE raids were the massive nationwide and worldwide protests of Friday.

There was also realization that there needs to be rapid follow up and an escalation to continue this struggle to its successful conclusion as those fetid, wretched, concentration, torture camps are still open and need to be closed now.


Albert Bender
Albert Bender

Albert Bender is a Cherokee activist, historian, political columnist, and freelance reporter for Native and Non-Native publications. He is currently writing a legal treatise on Native American sovereignty and working on a book on the war crimes committed by the U.S. against the Maya people in the Guatemalan civil war He is a consulting attorney on Indigenous sovereignty, land restoration, and Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) issues and a former staff attorney with Legal Services of Eastern Oklahoma (LSEO) in Muskogee, Okla.