When her father disappeared from her life, Natalia Alonso was given no explanation about when he would come back.

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People gather for the vigil at Suburban Temple – Kol Ami in Beachwood Aug. 11.

She was 4 or 5 at the time.

“They kept it quiet,” the 16-year-old junior at Fremont Ross High School in Fremont told the Cleveland Jewish News. “A lot of friends, they don’t know if their friends have been documented because we don’t talk about it, and we shouldn’t be talking about those types of situations because it’s very personal. So as a kid, they didn’t tell me what was going on. They tried to keep it quiet so that we wouldn’t cry about it, but we knew deep down our father wasn’t coming home. We might not have known why but we knew our father wasn’t coming home.”

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Alonso was a featured speaker during a vigil called #CloseTheCamps organized by four groups and held outside Suburban Temple – Kol Ami within sight of Chagrin Boulevard Aug. 11 timed to coincide with Tisha B’Av, a fast day that coincides with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem as well as the expulsion of Jews in Spain in 1490 and other key catastrophic events in the history of Jews.

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The National Council of Jewish Women, Bend the Arc, the Ohio Religious Center of Reform Judaism Action and Truah organized the event to highlight the plight of undocumented immigrants who are being detained. Rabbi Allison Vann, spiritual leader of the Beachwood temple, hosted the vigil.

“You see, although I am older now, those feelings still hurt,” Alonso told the approximately 350 people gathered. “I can’t imagine what these kids are going through in these camps. It’s worse for them because they don’t know where they’re at. They don’t know what’s next. And that is a reality.

“You see, we have a humanitarian crisis right now. Children are being locked up. And that is not right. They don’t even have their parents by their side to help them cope with what’s going on. They are by themselves. You see, not only is it children that are in these cages, it is children all around the United States. There are raids occurring everywhere. We had one just this summer. I don’t know if you all remember the raids in Salem, the raids in Sandusky.”

Now, Alonso is committed to helping other children and families, whose lives have been devastated by immigration raids and detentions. On her Facebook page, called Losniñosdecorsos, she lists personal care items needed by those affected. Her intention is to deliver the supplies directly to families.

On Aug. 7, 680 people were arrested and detained in immigration raids in Mississippi food processing plants. Some 300 were later released, but Alonso pointed out that they are now jobless.

“Although they are being released, that does not mean they can go to work,” she said. “They are not having an income coming in so they can pay for what they need on a daily basis. That’s over. That’s done. So, I ask you all, Cleveland, please help us out one more time.”

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David W. Leopold, David W. Leopold, chair of immigration law at Ulmer & Berne LLP, addresses those gathered about immigration policy. | CJN Photo / Jane Kaufman

David W. Leopold, chair of immigration law at Ulmer & Berne LLP in Cleveland, also spoke

“I am the son of a Holocaust survivor,” he said, “Perhaps that’s what led me to this work. But what I do know standing here today … we face a white supremacist attack on our country, focused on immigrants, focused on people of color, and yes, as we know from our neighbors in Pittsburgh, from our brothers and sisters in San Diego, focused on Jews.”

Leopold was referring to the Aug. 4 mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, to the shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh in October 2018 and to the shooting at Chabad of Poway in California in April.

“I can’t think of a more appropriate community to stand up for the injustice being perpetrated on immigrants across this country and at the border as the Jewish community,” he said. “it is such a source of pride that each one of you has come here today to stand up truth to power what is right in this country bringing our country back to what we know it should be, not what some clique in Washington thinks that they want it to be.” There was applause. “I’ve been going to the border since 2010. I’ve been going to the border, and I’ve seen children kidnapped by customs and border protection, dragged across the border and dropped in Ciudad Juarez, perhaps the most dangerous city not in a declared war zone at 4 in the morning to fend for themselves. We’ve seen the specter of families seeking asylum in this country, seeking refuge in this country, that’s why my parents came here. I’m sure that’s why many of your parents and grandparents came here, being subjected to squalor and danger in Juarez because the United States government under the current administration has said they cannot apply for asylum in the United States. … At the same time, locking up children, not giving them soap, not giving them water, children have died. People are dying because of this administration.”

“This is about cruelty for cruelty’s sake,” he said. “It’s shameful, and it will forever remain a stain on the United States.” There was applause.

“The president of the United States has made it very clear that he intends to get re-elected off immigration, off dehumanizing immigrants, off of making them subhuman, we all know what that term means, locking them in camps. …

“We cannot live forever in this country with a permanent underclass of slaves called undocumented workers,” he said, and there was applause.

Leopold told the group that it is legal to apply for asylum in the U.S. regardless of how a person arrived.

“A woman who is trafficked into this country, a child who is trafficked into this country, a woman who was beaten up by her U.S. citizen husband is protected by the violence against women act,” he said. “We have U visas and T visas to protect people without papers who are victims of crimes, witnesses of crimes.”

Leopold said children who are separated from their parents and placed in a system designed for unaccompanied minors, “that system does not have any mechanism to reunite these kids.”

“This was intentional, this was cruel, this was inhumane and this was criminal,” he said. There was applause.

In addition, Leopold said, referring to coverage by the Washington Post and New York Times, President Donald Trump has profited by exploiting undocumented laborers on his golf courses.

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Dr. Arthur Lavin, a pediatrician, chants verses from the Book of Lamentations. | CJN Photo / Jane Kaufman