By Nick Braune
Mid-Valley Town Crier
Two important demonstrations took place last weekend, one nearby, in Raymondville
outside their immigration detention center, and one up in Taylor, Texas near
Austin, where the infamous T. Don Hutto detention center is located.
At the Raymondville detention center, there were 75 protesters, and they received very good TV coverage on one Valley-wide TV station and adequate coverage in the Harlingen daily paper. Univision was there, and perhaps more media. The demonstration was important because it publicly linked several Valley organizations on this issue.
Some endorsers that were listed on a leaflet: People for Peace and Justice, MEChA, Pax Christi, Student Farmworker Alliance, La Uni*n Del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), Border Ambassadors, a Mennonite community in San Juan and another in Brownsville, the “base community” of San Felipe de Jesus Catholic Church in Brownsville, Proyecto Libertad, UTPA Environmental Awareness Club, Veterans for Peace, Foro Socialista del Valle, El Tribuno, and Christian Peacemakers. For sure, this is not everyone in the Valley, but it is a big enough coalition to begin reaching everyone if the Raymondville Center is not shut down soon.
It was a lively demonstration with speakers denouncing the for-profit complex — it treats the immigrants, who have not been convicted of a crime, as convicted criminals. According to one speaker, because two thousand people are held behind razor wire in those big puffy tents, Raymondville can boast of having America’s largest concentration camp.
At one point demonstrators heard there were detainees in a corner exercise yard, so they took the bullhorns and walked down the road about a thousand feet. They called out and could see heads bobbing up as some prisoners leaped up to peak over the six foot wall and rolled wire.
The other demonstration was in Taylor, Texas at the Hutto detention center, which is particularly odious because it holds children. There were 500 protestors. I interviewed Sarnata Reynolds, the national immigration rights director of Amnesty International in Washington, DC, who attended the vigil.
Author: What primary commitment or concern led your group to support this demonstration?
Reynolds: Amnesty International USA is very concerned about the detention of children, asylum seekers, and migrants in prison-like facilities. It is hard to imagine a time that it might be appropriate to dress children in prison gear, deny them access to adequate schooling and recreation, or threaten that they’ll be separated from their parents if they don’t behave, but these are exactly the reports coming out of Hutto.
If a broad spectrum of United States citizens were aware that children are being incarcerated for months and years at a time, the outcry would be even larger. We hope that this World Refugee Day event educates more people about the U.S. policy of detaining children, and spurs on a growing movement against this practice in Texas.
Author: Thank you for your work.
Also in the crowd at Hutto was the director of District 7 LULAC, Rita Gonzales-Garza. I asked for a quick interview.
Author: What concern or commitment brought you here?
Gonzales-Garza: I was drawn to this Hutto vigil, first, because of my extreme disgust with our federal government’s practice, especially under the current administration, of imprisoning persons who are seeking asylum or who are here to search for a better life for their family.
Secondly, this practice has become a multi-million-, if not billion-, dollar industry. Prior to this administration, certain immigrants and most asylum seekers who were apprehended were not imprisoned; they were required to register with the U.S. government and provide information on their residence and information on other persons who would know their residence. They could stay in this country until their immigration hearing took place and the outcome was determined. Now they are imprisoned, for profit.
This detention/prison center in Taylor is a horrendous violation of human rights because here it jails women and their children. How can a government that used to be a “beacon of justice” do such a thing? It is all about the mighty dollar and putting that dollar in the hands of friends and supporters of the administration. Even Halliburton’s subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root, with whom Vice President Cheney is associated, has gotten into the business of building private prisons for immigrants and asylum seekers.
Author: And the companies operating the prisons get paid $3,000 a month — and I’ve heard way higher figures — per detainee.
Gonzales-Garza: Yes. It’s a multi-million dollar, perhaps billion dollar, industry now. All in the name of “securing our borders from terrorists.” What a sham!
Author: Any new plans?
Gonzales-Garza: Yes, we are beginning a campaign to educate Congress about this issue and to press this issue with presidential candidates.
Author: Good. Thank you.