Protestors Shut Down Entrance to Suffolk Detention Center, Call on President Obama to Stop Deportations
Boston, MA – Immigrant activists and religious leaders from Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont have formed a human chain at the entrance of the Suffolk Detention Center in Boston to demand action from President Obama to end the suffering caused by deportation. The prison at 20 Bradston Street has been the site of an immigrant prisoner hunger strike in October 2013 and is currently embroiled in lawsuits protesting indefinite detention.
Those risking arrest include many directly impacted by deportation, including Alejandro Gonzalez, an undocumented man from Connecticut. “I participate in this civil disobedience during Holy Week to let those in high positions in the government know that we reject the laws that criminalize our people, only for not having a piece of paper,” says Gonzalez. “Although I know I face being deported too, eleven million people need us to act. For that reason, the word ‘fear’ is not in my vocabulary. On this holy day, we remember that we must make sacrifices to help our community.”
The protest occurs while pressure mounts for the White House to provide administrative relief for immigrant families, as the Obama administration reaches two million deportations, more than any president in history, primarily as a result of his expansion of the Secure Communities (S-Comm) program. In Massachusetts, 68% of persons deported through S-Comm had no criminal convictions whatsoever or were only accused of minor offenses, such as traffic violations. Lawmakers are currently considering a bill, the Massachusetts TRUST Act (SB 1135) to limit the state’s participation in S-Comm. The Connecticut legislature unanimously approved a similar bill last year.
Maria Peniche, an undocumented college student from Revere, MA who is risking arrest, says, “I grew up here. This has been my home since I was ten, and I have no criminal record, but ICE detained me, stripped me, shackled me, interrogated me, and tried to break my spirit, just because I came here without papers. The President has the legal authority and the moral responsibility to stop this suffering now.” Peniche’s parents arrived home in Revere yesterday after spending nearly two months in an immigration prison.
Jasmine Mendoza of Connecticut, whose husband was deported last year, says “I want President Obama to know that he’s taken our happiness, our sole provider, and the love of our lives. We say Not One More for all the families needlessly ripped apart by ICE. For all the men and women currently detained. For all the men and woman lost in the desert trying to come home.”
Abel Garcia is from Vera Cruz and came to the United States 6 years ago. He’s undocumented and has been working in Vermont on dairy farms and volunteers with Migrant Justice. When he started getting involved with Migrant Justice, seeing other people tell their stories inspired him to focus on helping others in his situation. He was part of the effort to get driver’s licenses for undocumented people in Vermont and has been to Arizona to Shut Down ICE actions. Meeting others in organizations and hearing others’ stories and seeing what other states have done are what keep him going in the fight toward justice for migrants. “I’m not scared to do civil disobedience. I see us making a change — I want us to see the good results we know can come from direct action. The people in detention centers and families who have been separated need us to keep fighting. We have the power to do it!”
Alejandro Gonzalez is an undocumented resident from Meriden, Connecticut. He works construction and is a member of the faith-based immigrant group Ministerio de Hermandad. Last year, four of his family members died and he was unable to say goodbye because of his undocumented status. “I participate in this civil disobedience to let those in high positions in the government that we reject the laws that criminalize our people, only for not having a piece of paper. Instead of prisons and detention centers, our people need love and compassion from the government. I do this so that one day people are able to see their loved ones outside of detention, and live without the threat of deportation. Although I know I face being deported too, eleven million people need us to act. For that reason, the word ‘fear’ is not in my vocabulary. On this holy day we must remember that we must make sacrifices to help our community. ”
Andres del Castillo was born here, and grew up in a family with mixed immigration status. His mother was undocumented for 27 years, and his father and two older sisters were undocumented for most of his childhood, as well. Andres grew up in Winthrop, and as a child was always very aware that his family could be separated because of their status. He recalls going to Colombia to see family and making sure to take in every detail of his visits in order to share stories with his mother, who could not make these trips home with him due to her status.
Gladys Vega is a Puerto Rican immigrant who moved to Boston when she was 8 years old. She is currently the executive director of Chelsea Collaborative, organizing and to win campaigns and build power for undocumented immigrant community. She has played leadership roles in organizing for the rights of immigrants, the rights of tenants, welfare access, increasing open space, protecting the environment, and for the creation of multicultural and anti-racism programs in the community. “My community is largely made up of immigrants, undocumented and documented. I see a real need for this type of action to pressure to President to keep our communities and families together.”
Gregory Williams is part of Amistad Catholic Worker House and Yale Divinity School in Connecticut. He approaches his participation in this action as a Christian and a person who believes that, “God took the side of the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed and those who suffer from the violence of history. As a person of privilege who seeks to worship this God, I cannot do anything other than risk arrest. I need to take responsibility for the system that acts in my name, to do the work of dismantling that system. This is what it means to stand against racism. This is what it means to put the love of God into practice.” Gregory has put his body on the line and taken real risks to prevent members of Unidad Latina en Accion from being deported.
Jad Quesada-Khoury is a student at at Hampshire College in Western Massachusetts. He is a volunteer with Just Communities and has worked with day laborers in California. Jad is a United States citizen, and his parents are immigrants from Nicaragua and Lebanon. “I am a product of immigration to the United States, and am ashamed by the massive deportation campaign in this country. As the child and grandchild of immigrants who has enjoyed the benefits of growing up and going to college in the United States, I feel very strongly about doing my part to ensure that immigrants and their families have the same opportunities today.”
John Jairo Lugo has been a member and leader of Unidad Latina en Accion in New Haven, Connecticut since its inception in 2002. He came to the United States as an undocumented immigrant fleeing persecution in his native Colombia. His work for prisoners and immigrants rights is informed by his own experience being detained in the notorious Krome Detention Center in Miami. He worked for 15 years at Community Mediation, Inc. in New Haven in programs to resolve conflicts and divert first time offenders from prison. He also volunteers with Mediators Beyond Borders in a war-torn region of Colombia.
Joseph Foran is a nurse and part of the Amistad Catholic Worker in New Haven, Connecticut. “I am here in solidarity with the many people who are detained at this jail, far from their families and the public consciousness. After working with and hearing the stories of so many families at Unidad Latina en Accion in New Haven, it is time to use my privilege and shout from this place, !Ya basta! Enough already! I am also here this Holy Thursday to prayerfully remember another Undocumented Migrant who was torn from his loved ones. President Obama: do the right thing. Issue an executive order to STOP DEPORTATIONS!”
Laura Gonzalez knows what it is like to be undocumented, because she used to be. Although she was able to get temporary status, several of her family members remain undocumented. She particularly worries about her father, who has several health ailments and no health insurance due to his immigration status. She also has seen how deportations have affected her community. “The constant threat of family separation is real to me and its affecting many people you may love and care for. I cannot wait any longer for Congress to make up its mind about where my family’s future lies. That is why I have decided to risk arrest in front of Suffolk detention facilities, where so many migrants are unjustly chained, incarcerated and deported every day. In my heart I cannot sit with the fact that somewhere tonight a child is lying in their bed without their parent at their side reading them a bedtime story.”
Maria Peniche came to Boston undocumented when she was ten years old and graduated from Revere High School. Three days before President Obama announced DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), Maria and family left for Mexico, because they were tired of being second class citizens in the US. There they found barriers to getting into university, getting jobs and having a safe place to live. In July 2013, Maria was part of a civil disobedience action known as the “DREAM 9” and “Bring Them Home,” in which nine young immigrants crossed the border back into the U.S. requesting entrance. She spent 15 days in the notorious Eloy Detention Center in Arizona, and 7 of those days she was in solitary confinement because she was trying to organize the other detainees. Last month, her parents did the same thing with a group of about 150 mothers, fathers and children. Yesterday they were released after two months in ICE detention.
Megan Fountain grew up in Boston and is a long-time activist with Unidad Latina en Accion (ULA) in New Haven, Connecticut fighting for workers’ and immigrants’ rights. “I’m taking action today because I am inspired by the courage and the love shown by the Connecticut families who are fighting deportation. We need to lose our fear. As a White person, I will no longer comply with a system that puts people behind bars because of the color of their skin. Not one more.”
Natalia Farjado is a Colombian immigrant and an organizer with Migrant Justice in Vermont. She became involved in migrant farm worker issues when a good friend was arrested and deported for being undocumented. “11 million people in this country have been in the shadows for far too long. Being its engine, yet living in fear of separation from parents or children, or of being jailed for only destiny will know how long. And while Obama can offer some comfort today, with the stroke of a pen, I’m forced to block the deportation machine with my own body to say: Mr. Obama, stop the deportations now!”
Natalia Berthet Garcia is an organizer with Massachusetts Jobs With Justice. “I spent nearly 20 years living in this country with no papers. I have DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) now, which I don’t think is enough, but I can’t deny that it has been a relief in a lot of ways. I have a license now, and I can help my parents, who are still undocumented, in ways that I couldn’t help before. I worry about my family and friends who are in the same situation. A license and relief from the threat of deportation should not be privileges given to some; they are basic rights that my family other migrants deserve, too. I am participating in civil disobedience because I’m tired of seeing families torn apart and our communities terrorized. We must stand against the dehumanization and criminalization of migrants.”
Peter Knowlton grew up in Worcester MA area. He has been an organizer and member of the UE labor union since 1985 and has worked as a cab driver, carpenter and factory worker. As President of the Northeast Region of the UE, Peter is standing in solidarity with migrant workers and families and calling on President Obama to stop deportations “because it rips families apart, denies workers dignity, and creates an environment of fear and oppression amongst the most exploited just trying to make ends meet, and because US corporate economic and trade policies have made it impossible to do that in their homeland.”
Brinelgy Contreras is originally from Santo Domingo and a Chelsea, MA resident. She Is a youth that works for the Chelsea Collaborative in our Summer Youth Employment Program. She is currently at North Shore Community College. Briny is very active with the Collaborative she is part of our youth that works toward Environmental Justice but also every time she gets a break from school she comes to volunteer at the Collaborative in any of our programs.
Flor Palacios is an immigrant from El Salvador and a resident of Chelsea, MA. Flor is a Leader in her local Catholic Church. Flor was so active back in her home country that there is a documentary of her work in El Salvador as a young person.
Lourdes Alvarado came to the United States undocumented from Honduras, and her family became citizens thanks to the amnesty in 1986. She is a Chelsea resident and activist with 12 years in advocacy and human services. She lives in Chelsea with her children and many, many family members, some of whom are undocumented.
Molly Hartnett Stuart is a sociology student at Middlebury College in Vermont. She has been a member of Migrant Justice for over a year, participating in their campaigns for non-biased policing and access to drivers’ licenses for all Vermont residents. “I think being in solidarity with immigrant justice movements means refusing to be complicit in the exploiting of workers, the criminalizing of people, and the uprooting of lives. As a student in Vermont and a member of Migrant Justice, I am standing with my community members to collectively challenge unfair deportations and systemic inequality.”