GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A group of West Michigan residents rallied in Grand Rapids Thursday night for immigration reform, protesting U.S. Border Patrol agents’ use of tear gas at the Mexico border.
Immigration advocacy group Movimiento Cosecha GR was one of the groups leading the event. It began inside the Grand Valley State University Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences building on Michigan Street NE, with concerned people voicing concerns.
After about 30 minutes of discussion, the small group headed out to march to three U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in the city.
Karla Barberi, a volunteer with Movimiento Cosecha GR, told 24 Hour News 8 that the marches were equally about urging Kent County officials to break ties with ICE as much as it was about displaying support for those trying to make the United States their new home.
“We want our community to be that shelter, to be that safe haven for immigrants,” Barberi said.
She explained how hurt she was when she learned border patrol agents hurled tear gas near Tijuana, Mexico last Sunday. Hundreds of asylum-seekers nearly overwhelmed that part of the border beforehand, according to U.S. officials. The asylum-seekers included women and children.
“Attacking them with gas? That’s inhumane,” said Barberi.
Originally from Guatemala, Barberi said she narrowly escaped turbulence in her home country.
“There’s certain smells that remind me of those horrible days where I was running for my life. My dad was killed. I was injured. I had a grenade exploded on my bed,” she recalled. “When I saw the pictures of those women trying to protect their children, that’s not a human way to treat people,” she said about the use of tear gas.
After getting married in the U.S., Barberi said it took her more than 12 years to earn residency status. Since she knows how difficult the naturalization process can be, she’s committed to spurring change as a volunteer.
Thursday, Barberi said, was about calling for more businesses and local leaders to help protect and welcome immigrants.
Referencing this week’s case of mutilation out of Grand Rapids, Barberi says it’s time to help asylum-seekers to a better life.
“On the news, there was the body of a woman who was dismembered and that happens in our countries every single day,” she said. “You find bags with human remains and it’s people seeking that protection that are running away from violence.”