Lights for Liberty vigils planned in Iowa City, Cedar Rapids

Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Concentration Camps

College Green Park, Iowa City — Friday, July 12 at 7 p.m.
Federal Courthouse, Cedar Rapids — Friday, July 12 at 7 p.m.

Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project co-founder Elizabeth Rook Panicucci speaks during the Families Belong Together Rally at College Green Park. Saturday, June 30, 2018. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

On Friday, July 12, the Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project and El Trueque Latino Magazine will host Iowa City’s “Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Concentration Camps” in College Green Park at 7 p.m. There will also be a Lights for Liberty vigil in Cedar Rapids, co-hosted by the Center for Worker Justice and Freedom for Immigrants Eastern Iowa, across from the federal courthouse on 2nd Street SE. Both are part of nationwide series of protests against the Trump administration’s policies.

Local activists Elizabeth Bernal and Elizabeth Rook Panicucci work with the Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project and organized the Iowa City Lights for Liberty vigil. There will be speakers at the event who will share their experiences in immigration, and stations with information about local resources and volunteering to help.

“[We want] time to just honor the people that are swept up in the cruelty of immigration,” said Rook Panicucci of the candlelight vigil. “We don’t want it to be a night where people show up and then they feel their obligations are fulfilled.”

The vigil also aims to inform the community of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) presence everywhere, though its actions near the southern border are emphasized. ICE doesn’t have any dedicated detention facilities in Iowa, but instead has contracts with five county jails — including the Linn County Jail — to hold detainees.

“People are hearing more about the border … and people don’t know it’s happening and it’s [their] neighbor,’” said Bernal. “That’s one of the reasons why [immigrants] don’t travel to have fun or do activities here in Iowa because they’re scared to be out and be detained. It’s scary for the community.”

Hundreds marched from the Old Capitol buliding to College Green Park for the Families Belong Together rally. Saturday, June 30, 2018. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

Since its founding in 2017, the Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project has worked with immigrants to help them understand their legal rights and provided money for bonds for individuals detained by ICE in selected cases. The average bond is about $7,000, and the nonprofit relies on donations to raise the funds for its bonds.

It also relies on donations of time.

No matter where someone is arrested by ICE in Iowa or where that person is detained, the bond payment must be delivered by hand to the Department of Homeland Security’s regional office in Omaha, Nebraska. The bond project relies on volunteers to deliver those checks.

As of July, the nonprofit had provided bonds for 53 immigrants. If all goes as planned, within the next two weeks the number will be 56.

A huge benefit of paying the bond for detained people is the time they have to plan for their family’s future and to prepare in case they are deported. People released on bond also have a substantially better chance of being successful at their immigration court hearings, and being able to remain in the United States.

The Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project plans to organize donation deals with restaurants in the next few weeks, so a portion of the meal’s cost will go toward the organization, said Bernal. Another development Bernal would like to see is community outreach and education, so the general public can better understand how the immigration system in the United States works.

A consistent habit of putting time, money and effort into the fight is important in seeking change to those in the Eastern Iowa Community Bond Project, according to Rook Panicucci.

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“Lighting a candle is beautiful, but what do you do tomorrow?” she said. “What do you do Saturday morning with your time and your money that’s going to push our country to change this?”