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Chris Swain comes to North Shore to shine a light on border fight

Chris Swain of New York City crisscrossed Lynn, Swampscott, and Marblehead on Friday, lit torch in hand, to bring attention to the plight of children separated from families at the Mexican border. (Spenser Hasak)

MARBLEHEAD — When it comes to shining a light on reports of immigrant children separated from their families at the Mexican border, Chris Swain takes the idea literally.

The New York native with family in Marblehead trooped through Lynn, Swampscott and Marblehead neighborhoods Friday, holding aloft a lit torch and talking to anyone he met along the way about his views on immigration and the border crisis. 

“I feel like the situation we are in now is a struggle for the nation,” Swain said. 

U.S. policy allowing immigrant children to be detained at the nation’s border with Mexico and separation from their parents has pitted immigration reform advocates and other activists against the Trump administration. 

The fight has resonated across the country with Leah Bokenkamp, a Marblehead community activist, walking with Swain on Friday with a sheet of paper pinned to her chest and inscribed, she said, with the names of children who have died in federal custody. 

“I’m a mom, separation of kids is not OK with me,” she said.

Seemingly immune to the late fall chill, Swain and Bokenkamp trekked along Essex Street through Lynn on Friday morning and made their way through Marblehead in the late afternoon headed for Lynn Shore Drive. 

The walk was only the tail-end of a jaunt to highlight the border controversy that began Thursday in Concord and Lexington with Swain walking to Lynn by way of Arlington and Medford. 

A 51-year-old self-described “full-time human rights advocate,” Swain embarked on a human rights walk across the country in 1995. He swam rivers and open water bodies to bring attention to pollution. 

He chose to carry a torch to illustrate the plight of border children because it symbolically illuminates “flames of memory and of hope.”

He admits it also attracts attention from law enforcement and said National Park Service personnel in Concord and the Billerica police chief stopped to ask Swain about the torch during his Thursday walk.

“The chief ended up taking his picture with me,” he said.

Fueled by lamp oil, the torch requires refueling and relighting every 45 minutes.

Swain’s mother, Kristin Mellen, and sister, Eliza Mellen — both Marblehead residents — walked part of the way through town with Swain and Bokenkamp. 

He hopes to chronicle his walk in a documentary underscoring his core viewpoint on the immigration fight. 

“Everyone deserves the same fair deal,” he said. 

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