Immigrant influence on Ybor City serves as backdrop for migrant detention protest

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In Ybor City -- an area of Tampa known for Cuban cigars, Spanish food and the cultural influence of generations of immigrant families -- hundreds gathered Friday evening to protest the detention of thousands of immigrants captured by Border Control and ICE agents at the US southern border. 

Protests across the county called for the closure of the detention facilities, including one in Homestead, Florida where, according to a newly-released report, 55 children were held separated from their parents.

Human rights groups are asking the government to shut these facilities down. 

“We have to stand out and we have to speak up for the people who have no voices right now,” demonstrator Connie Uebel said.

Others point to high numbers of asylum-seekers at the southern border have created a crisis for the country's immigration system.

Last month, more than 100,000 people were apprehended trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border at locations between ports of entry, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Those seeking asylum are held in detention centers.

“Some of them are not in the best conditions. I wouldn’t want to be there. But some of them are not as bad as people say they are. Most of them are not that bad,” Republican E.J. Otero said.

People on both sides agree the conditions need to improve. Vice President Mike Pence toured the McAllen Border Patrol station in Texas Friday. 

The Associated Press reports detainees shouted to reporters they needed food and wanted to brush their teeth, with some saying they had been held for more than 40 days. The press pool was ushered out of the building within 90 seconds of being allowed in, but the AP says reporters saw border patrol agents wearing face masks as they guarded cages of detainees.

Pence says he has pushed for more federal spending to deal with the situation.

In Tampa, protesters say they want to see action now.

“Children are being separated from their mothers. They are not given proper medical treatment. They are not given proper food," rally organizer Aida Mackic said.

Those who oppose detaining immigrants at the border seem split on what to do with people once they're freed. Some think they should be issued green cards and allowed to work.

“They’ll take jobs nobody else wants. They’ll work hard and they will start paying taxes and they will become productive citizens,” Uebel said.

Others believe closing down facilities isn’t realistic.

"It’s nonsense. You can’t eliminate them because, what happens is, what are you going to do to the people that are in them?” Otero said.

The organization Lights for Liberty organized Friday's Ybor City rally along with dozens of other similar rallies held Friday in major cities across the country.