Outside the University of Denver’s Magness Arena, reporters waiting to cover the first presidential debate of 2012 turned their cameras over a chain-link fence to a hundred demonstrators gathered with a message for the evening’s participants and audience: Migration is a human right.

The demonstrators—clergy, immigrants, and community leaders among them—came out to take a visible stand in favor of changing immigration policies used to detain and deport immigrants.

Violence inflicted on communities and the suffering of separated families that stem from current policies are morally reprehensible, they said, particularly in light of increasing profits within the immigrant detention industry.

“Migration is a human right—people have migrated for centuries,” said Jordan Garcia, immigrant ally organizing director with AFSC’s Colorado program, speaking to the crowd. “The militarization and policing of borders is out of step not only with our history, but with our familial and economic realities.”

To illustrate timelessness of human migration, many in the group wore colorful wings in allusion to the Monarch butterfly, a species that migrates hundreds of miles through Mexico, the United States, and Canada every year. The pattern of human migration is equally beautiful, natural, and significant, they said.

Singing and chanting along University Avenue, the demonstrators also carried 14-foot-tall puppets representing a family of migrants—a grandmother, mother, and baby. Clergy surrounded the puppet family, offering silent witness, blessings, and prayer as the puppets were separated through the crowd, representing current immigration policy that tears apart families through detention and deportation.

“These policies result in death, as we saw in Chula Vista this week with the shooting death of U.S. citizen, mother, wife, sister, and daughter Valeria Munique Tachiquin,” said Jordan. “We are here today to envision communities without this type of violence.”

Rev. Nancy Rosas said that there is a moral imperative for change. “This separation of families, not only detention but also deportation, is morally reprehensible,” she said. “Families experience unnecessary pain and suffering. We want that to end.”

In the last four years under the Obama Administration, the number of deportations has doubled, as has the number of for-profit detention centers in the United States.

Immigrant detention costs $5.4 million in taxpayer money per day. While detention costs $164 per day per person, several studies have shown that alternatives to detention are just as effective at a cost of anywhere from $4 to $12 per day.

The three corporations with which Immigration and Customs Enforcement contracts, including Corrections Corporation of America and The GEO Group, spent at least $45 million in the past decade on campaign donations and lobbyists at the state and federal levels.

While passing out fact sheets on the costs of detention and fliers to protest GEO’s Aurora, Colo., for-profit immigrant detention center, Judith Marquez explained her motivation for participating. “It has become more and more obvious that the main reason people are detained is because corporations stand to make money based on tearing apart families,” she said. “This profiting from pain is suspect.”

Demonstrators called on both candidates and the public to oppose inhumane and unwarranted detention and deportation and to recognize the human rights of migrants. They chanted “Profit from Pain is Inhumane!” as each of the puppets was scattered to the edges of the demonstration.

People in butterfly wings then surrounded each of the puppets, symbolically bringing the family back together through community and transforming profit from pain into a soaring love of family and justice.

As they left the debate, they sang:

Gonna keep on walking forward
Keep on walking forward
Gonna keep on loving boldly
Gonna reach across our borders
Never turning back