They're still going strong.

Back in late June, Barb Lemmon got tired of hearing the horror stories about the treatment of immigrants at government detention centers and asked fellow members of the Borderlands Unitarian Universalist Church in Amado if they wanted to do something about it.

On July 4, about 60 people armed with protest signs gathered on the four corners of Esperanza Boulevard and La Cañada Drive . 

Every Monday, Thursday and Saturday since then, members of the group gather at the same intersection from 8 to 9 a.m.

The numbers vary, but nearly 20 were there Saturday holding signs saying "Seeking Safety is not a Crime," "Never Again Means Never Again" and "Children in Cages is Immoral and Unchristian."

In fiscal year 2018, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement housed a daily average of 42,000 immigrants. Most were seeking asylum, and many were among waves of immigrants coming out of unstable Central American nations rife with violence driven by drug cartels.

The numbers overwhelmed ICE, which has had to defend itself against reports of unsanitary, crowded conditions, poor medical aid and limited access to water and food, among other charges.

Lemmon, a member of the Green Valley Sahuarita Good Samaritans, organized the protests after hearing first-hand accounts of the detention centers while volunteering at temporary migrant shelters set up for asylum seekers in Tucson.

Yes, the group meets on the same three days on the same four corners every week, but she's not worried about the public becoming numb to their presence, Lemmon said.

Why? Because new protestors are showing up every week.

Part of the reason is more information is coming out about the impact the Trump administration's Zero Tolerance Policy is having on migrant children, she said.

On Aug. 21, The National Child Abuse Coalition sent a letter to the Senate and House Leadership saying the conditions faced by the children violate child abuse statutes all over the United States. Forty-five national organizations and 157 statewide groups endorsed the letter.

On Aug. 29, the chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, said conditions remain poor despite the fact Congress approved a $4.6 billion border aid package in June that was to be used to move children into better equipped shelters.

On Sept. 4, the Inspector General's Office in the Department of Health and Human Services released a report stating that children separated during the Trump Administration's "zero tolerance policy" last year showed more fear, feelings of abandonment and post-traumatic stress symptoms than children who were not separated from their families.

The report was based on interviews with roughly 100 mental health clinicians who had regular interactions with the children. It said the longer children were in custody the more their mental health deteriorated, and recommended minimizing that time.

One clinician told investigators children trying to describe how they felt would sometimes say "I can't feel my heart" or "My chest hurts." Some of those protesting in Green Valley Saturday held signs quoting those statements.

Saturday was the first day Cynthia Dean came to protest. As a Court Appointed Special Advocate, Dean has been advocating for foster children for more than 10 years. She's appalled migrant children are now being forced to deal with the same sort of trauma and wants to do what she can to bring attention to it.

"I have seen kids removed from their homes, from their parents, from everything that is familiar to them," Dean said. "I've seen the damage this is doing to those kids and it is something that is going to take years to help them recover from, if they ever recover."

Elsa Rodriguez joined the group for a second time Saturday, despite a broken foot. She described herself as a Republican with faith-based values, but said her party affiliation should be irrelevant.

"It doesn’t matter if you’re Republican or Democrat. I didn’t vote for Trump and I didn’t vote for Obama, either. It doesn’t matter. What matters is what you feel in your heart. What you think is right," Rodriguez said. "Nobody should be locked up, nobody should be dying, everyone should be treated humanely. What kind of a society are we if we don’t look out for the most vulnerable, the elderly, the children, the homeless, the persecuted? It’s what the Bible tells us to do."

On Saturday, Deanna Brooks' sign read "Children in Cages is Immoral and Unchristian."

"One of the reasons I made this sign is Green Valley is full of churches. And generally when you’re looking at Christian values how can you support locking up children?" she asked.

Judith Whipple, a regular protestor, had this to say:

"I don’t view it as a separation so much as a theft. We steal these children from their families and our cruelty to them is a dangerous thing to do because some will grow up and seek us for revenge," Whipple said. "We’re really raising a cohort of enemies it seems to me, potentially."

While the women acknowledged they get the occasional obscene gesture and are sometimes told to "Go home," they said most of the time they get positive reactions.

On Saturday, the drivers of dozens of cars waved and honked.

The passenger in a black Toyota leaned out to say, "Good job, ladies. Be strong. We're going to win in 2020!"

The driver in another car rolled down her window and said, "I'm trying to figure out what you're doing."

The ladies quickly told her "children in cages" before the light turned green.

When asked about the negative comments, Laurie Jurs said she tends to look at the positive.

"I think it’s an important life skill to learn how to deal with yelling people and not yell back and not be a jerk," she said.

Lee Reid and Sharyn Jensen said they aren't impacted either.

"It doesn't deter us," Reid said.

"It makes us more determined," Jensen added.

Jurs said she heard the best line ever after someone complained about having to see the protestors all of the time.

"One of us just said ‘Why don’t you just drive another way?’"

Kim Smith | 520-547-9740

Assistant Editor Kim Smith moved to Arizona from Michigan when she was 16. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in journalism in 1989. She has worked at seven newspapers of varying size in Arizona, Texas and Nevada.

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