Today more than thirty from SOA Watch joined the fourth annual march to close Stuart Detention facility. The names of 114 deceased were remembered with the traditional “Presente” in a three mile procession from the Stuart Courthouse to the Detention Center. They had all died in immigration detention facilities since 2003.
When the names were read, over the microphone came a soft, simpering voice that chanted just three words. “Bring Daddy home!” This was the rally cry of four year-old Logan Guzman.
For the past year since her husband’s detainment, Emily Guzman, a US citizen, has been baptized into advocating on behalf of those inside. Her soulmate Pedro regularly sends her the messages of others inside where he is affectionately known as “el abogado” to the men, and as “the Congressman” by the guards. The nicknames stem from his work as mediator of disputes between the detainees and prisoners. Focused not just on her personal story, she asked why her husband Pedro is forced to mop and buff floors for $2 a day so that the Corrections Corporation of America can profit.
Rebbeca Pohl of SOA Watch said of the demonstration, “Perfect mixture of tradition, emotionally touching, and calling out what the system is doing to society.”
Emily Guzman, moments before crossing the line spoke through tears: “Sometimes we have to cross lines to seek justice. My mother and other community members are crossing lines because we seek justice. We hope that everyone on the other side understand that we want justice.”
Those practicing nonviolent civil disobedience, or “divine obedience,” were accompanied to the tune of the old negro spiritual ‘We shall overcome’. Revised: “No one is illegal, no one is illegal, Deep in my heart I do believe that no one is illegal.”
Emily Tucker of Detention Watch Network (DWN) said, “Since the election many have pessimism about the prospects of meaningful immigration reform. It’s true that it will be difficult to change policy in DC any time soon. But it’s not true generally that DC has brought change to the nation; it has been the nation that has forced change on DC. From a bird’s eye view, only since the 1990s have we been living with extraordinarily inhumane detention policies. This is only a fraction of our history which has otherwise largely been written by immigrants without resorting to a vast network of detention facilities. This is not normal. Keep holding to your conviction that it’s not normal, and keep fighting so that it won’t ever be normal.”
A speaker said: “The walls of Jerico fell—and so will these. This is a place that is about border, a line drawn with tape and metal and people who have been given power. We respect legitimate power but we know that many of our borders and many of the lines we draw in the sand are lines drawn based on fear. It is fear that draws those lines, fear causing us to relegate our moral responsibility to these corporations.”
Tucker explained that Immigration and Customs Enforcement held in detainment an average of 32606 persons in a total of 178 facilities. Of those, 15,942 of the detainees were held in private facilities. 14 ICE facilities with 14,556 beds are run by The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) making it the largest private company. The state of Georgia has 1804 beds alone, consisting almost entirely of beds at the Stuart Detention facility. 74 million of our tax dollars were budgeted for detention facilities in the fiscal year of 2010. This represents a windfall for the CCA which spent 19 million dollars in lobbying.
Driven by its profit motive, the CCA under staffs its facilities. For instance, no doctor and no psychologist are employed at the Stuart Detention Facility, with the nearest hospital up to an hour away. In addition, the CCA pays its staff substantially less than the salaries paid by the federal government. According to Tucker, a DC lobbyist for Detention Watch Network, the median salary of a government run prison guard is 38,380 per year, while in private facilities the median is 28,790 per year. Thus, the CCA keeps its wages close to poverty level.
Last year when a former CCA official crossed the line, it was no wonder. Do likewise, was the message of principal organizer Anton Flores-Maisonet, friend of SOA Watch. His invitation to the officers and CCA guards to do likewise was reminiscent of Monsignor Romero who called his countrymen to put down their arms in the final homily he delivered before his assassination. His speech concluded, “When a private citizen takes responsibility, change is inevitable.”