PALO ALTO, Calif. (KTVU/AP) - A crowd gathered for a rally in Palo Alto, more than 1,000 miles from the immigrant detention centers in Texas, their hearts hurting for the migrant children caught in the immigration crisis, many being held in detention centers separated from their parents.
"I'm a mother of four. That could be my kids. I'm just born into a different situation. And to know that there are little ones, innocent ones out there suffering, it just breaks my heart," said Christine Akhtar, a San Jose resident who came to the rally with her children and husband.
Concern has been growing this week over the conditions of detention centers holding migrant children on the southern border.
A top immigration commissioner John Sanders resigned Tuesday after a report by lawyers found migrant children living in filthy conditions at a detention center in Clint, Texas, with no access to baths or medical care and insufficient food and water.
Also raising concern, was a photo of a Salvadoran father and his 2-year-old daughter whose bodies were found on the banks of the Rio Grande after they drowned trying to cross into the U.S. near Brownsville, Texas. The photograph was taken by journalist Julia Le Duc, who lives in Mexico and sparked outrage among many who saw it as a symbol of the desperation of many migrants.
The photo shows the girl tucked under her father's shirt, with her small arm still around his neck.
It was an especially painful sight for Woodson Martin.
Martin says his humanitarian aid group had served meals to the father, daughter and her mother.
Martin attended the Palo Alto rally Tuesday. He lives in the Bay Area but says he has made seven trips to the border this year. He helps run a non-profit group in Texas called Team Brownsville, working on both sides of the border to greet and provide supplies and food to some 80-150 asylum seekers a day who are released from detention.
Martin says many of those who do get through the process and are granted asylum emerge in poor health.
"Most of them are sick. Most of the kids are dehydrated, almost all of them are dehydrated. It's about 100 degrees right now in south Texas," Martin said.
The Palo Alto rally lasted more than an hour. Members of the Spark Church, the Congregation Etz Chaim, and other protesters stood on the corner of El Camino and Embarcadero across from Stanford University, waving signs and hoping to raise awareness about the conditions of migrant children being detained. Six migrant children have died in the past year.
The rally in Palo Alto was coordinated with another group that drove in a caravan to El Paso, Texas and held a candlelight vigil outside a detention center Tuesday night.
"Children are being harmed and treated like caged animals and I think more and more of us are saying I can't stand it anymore," said Julie Lythcott-Haims, the organizer of the #CaravantoClint trip to Texas..
"We realized there are a whole bunch of people here who want to be there too but can't make it this week," said Palo Alto rally organizer and Spark Church pastor Danielle Parish, "You can see there are a lot of people who are deeply moved and htis is an important issue for all of us."
Many said caring for the migrant children should be a bipartisan priority.
I've voted for Republicans. I've voted for Democrats. I've had my different disagreements with policies. I've never been so depressed to be an American," said Ari Cartun, Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Etz Chaim.
"Regardless of where you are on the immigration issue, I just think that our country can do better by the children," said Marcus Randolph, an East Palo Alto resident and member of Spark Church.
Some said they want the U.S. to show more compassion for children caught in the middle of the immigration issue.
"They must be taken care of and cherished. So to my fellow Americans I would say please, these are not somebody else's children. They are our children," said Samina Sundas, founder of the American Muslim Voice.
In one case reported in Clint, attorneys said a 2-year-old boy without a diaper was being watched by older children. Several youngsters had the flu. Many were separated from extended family members like aunts and uncles who brought them to the border; others were teenage mothers with babies.
Many children were moved out of the facility in recent days. But around the same time that Sanders announced his resignation, his agency said officials had moved more than 100 children back to the station.
An official from Customs and Border Protection said Tuesday that the majority of the roughly 300 children detained at Clint last week had been moved to facilities operated by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The official, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity, wouldn't say exactly how many.
Clara Long, a senior researcher with Human Rights Watch, and other lawyers inspected the facilities because they are involved in the Flores settlement, a Clinton-era legal agreement that governs detention conditions for migrant children and families.
The lawyers spoke to children who contradicted CBP's claims that the agency provides regular meals, safe places to sleep and access to medical care.
CBP's facilities at the Mexican border were almost all built when most people crossing the border illegally were single adults. Now, the agency is apprehending tens of thousands of parents and children weekly. It recorded 84,500 apprehensions of adults and children traveling together in May.
Congress is considering competing immigration bills with emergency funding for the migrant children. The Senate has proposed one measure and Democrats in the House have proposed another bill which the White House said they would veto because it lacks funds for toughening border security and building President Trump's proposed border wall.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.