Tacoma, WA –Over 200 immigrant rights activists and allies attended the Tacoma Detention Center People’s Movement Assembly on June 14, 2014. Organizations and families from all over Washington State attended from as far away as Forks on the Penninsula and Bellingham to the north to Yakima, Tri-Cities and Spokane in eastern Washington.
The People’s Movement Assembly is a community gathering where participants develop collective political agreements and positions and make action plans in order to work together.
The facilitation team consisted of immigrant rights leaders from diverse organizations, though the effort was spearheaded by adherents of the Not 1 More Deportation immigrant rights network under the leadership of Maru Mora Villalpando and her team.
The PMA was broken up into three parts. The first part consisted of a report back from immigrant rights activists organizing to shut down Detention Center’s around the world in England, Spain, Canada, and other parts of the USA. Activists from these communities teleconferenced into the general assembly and were projected onto the wall for everyone to see and hear. The second part of the People’s Movement Assembly involved breaking out into smaller groups based on affinity where groups were to come up with action plans to advance the immigrant rights movements. The third part of the People’s Movement Assembly was a reportback combined with a synthesis that was provided by Cipriano Ruiz, a leader of an emerging organization of detainees at the Northwest Detention Center. The PMA was closed with a rally at the nearby Northwest Detention Center.
RESISTING IMMIGRATION DETENTION CENTERS WORLDWIDE
The Struggle in London, England
An activist from London, England shared about a campaign in Gardsworth Detention Center where 20+ women went on a hunger strike.
The Struggle in Laredo, Texas, USA
The connection with the activist from Laredo, TX was not very good, but the audience managed to be briefed that there was a deportee hunger strike at the detention center.
The Struggle in Toronto, Canada
Activists from Toronto, Canada’s No One is Illegal network explained that they have been fighting for 10 years. The activists reported that 191 detainees had gone on hunger strike last september. In Canada there is an assessment that takes place every month where detainees can be released. Toronto hunger strikers launched boycott in Canada on the 2nd of June. Part of that boycott was the installation of a massive work of art in front of the Ministry in Ottowa, Canada.
In their analysis of the movement, No One is Illegal identified Canada as a Settler State. The network continues working with family members of detainees, working directly to stop detentions and deportations. They try to assure that anybody who is held more than 90 days is released. The sent their solidarity to everyone who was fighting against deportations.
The Struggle in Madrid, Spain
An activist from Madrid, Spain explained that groups against detention centers are local, coordinated, linking 2-3 cities to share info. She explained that it was easier to have your documentation checked in Spain than it was before due to policy changes. The Police union’s complain about having to do double duty. In Spain they have successfully stopped some of the deportations. One detention center was closed down because officers harassed women detainees.
How did you shut down the detention center?
Spain: The detention center was closed down two years ago because there were denouncements by prisoners that some gaurds sexually harassed them. A human rights issue was raised, and the government decided to close down the center, but the guards were not prosecuted. They closed down the center in order to avoid prosecuting the guards.
The government is currently investing in revamping the centers rather than on closing them.
Who is being targeted in each country?
Spain: Nationalities from all over the world. Morocco, Eastern Europe and Africa. Mexicans too.
England: Iraq, Iran, Siria, many countries and people from Latin America, India and Pakistan.
What is the main difference in regards to the ownership of the detention centers?
England: Private industry, GEO is the company that manages it. Circo, CRS are other companies. Palestinian Women and Men are tortured by these companies. Making billions off the suffering of immigrants.
Spain: Publically owned.
The Struggle in Tacoma, Washington, USA
There have been reprocussions for the first hunger strike that occurred after the direct actions in the early spring:
- 5 leaders of the Tacoma Hunger strikes Moved to Texas, Oregon, San Diego.
- Portions of food increased for a month, then decreased, sent to commissary.
- Guards picking on monolingual spanish speakers
What has emerged in the aftermath of the direct organizing that was occuring within the detention center in communication with the struggle outside of the detention center is an Inside/Outside organizing model that has led to some interesting types of organization.
On the outside, Latino Advocacy, LLC has provided an inroad to maintain communication with the detainees through the advocacy made possible by building strong relationships with families of detainees..
Inside of the detention center, the formation of a detainee organization, Collectivo del Centro de Detencion de Tacoma, has provided an avenue for concerted activities by the detainees which has been built on a unique mode of organizing that had to be developed inside the detention center because it is segregated into pods.
The formation of the detainee organization has led ICE and GEO to collectively engage in an emerging process of negotiation around the grievances that the detainees have.
A Timeline of the inside and outside strategies of the Tacoma Hunger Strike was created and displayed at the PMA.
THE ROAD AHEAD
PMA Break Out Groups
Detention Centers and the Prison Reform Movement
What are we up against?
1. Public Perception
- Narrative of “we’re not criminals, so we deserve to not be detained” is not loud enough
- Ignorance of the average person about the conditions and presence of the NWDC
- Misconceptions about other alternatives to detention – education needed, media attention needed.
2. CCA & GEO
- It’s a local issue, but it is controlled federally
- GEO Contract up in October
- Bed Quota – 34,000 per night
- expanding into alternative solutions to detentions such as electronic monitoring so they could just be thrown back into detention
3. Reaction to Internal Resistance
- Use of solitary confinement
- The web of federal detention centers can move detainee leaders
Possible Interventions and Actions
- ministers and clergy presence
- Support for Adam Smith’s Bill for accountability and transparency
- Direct Action against transport
- What is going on in California?
- Private Prison Divestment Campaign – Lots of strategies.
- Pressuring representatives and local government – calling for a bill, everyone did that every day
- Point out how immigration reform could benefit different communities (there is information coming out now about how DACA has benefitted those enrolled)
- Get families out to visit who do not live in this community
Commitments to Action for next few months
What could we do in the next couple of months to pressure Obama to take the broadest possible action (because it is inevitable)?
- Protesting renewal of GEO’s contract
- CIVIC – immigration / detention watch network
Deportations and Immigration Reform
What are we up against?
- comprehensive immigration reform feels like it’s not on the table, so maybe we should focus more on stopping deportations.
- higher amounts of house raids, we need to keep up to date on how the raids happen, so we can react effectively .
- there are so many bad bills, how do we plan for the future, elect the right people.
- immigration enforcement is so intertwined w/ the police, we can’t call the police for domestic violence support or other kinds of support we need.
- contracts with Geo and CCA, our city doesn’t want to get involved with federal issues.
- losing our fear and telling our stories, action in Sunnyside, Yakima, Pasco wants a Dream Team.
- News from other folks networking
- next PMA in eastern WA
Immigrant Rights and Labor Rights
Though the first hunger strike at the Northwest Detention Center included complaints about high prices at commissary, Detainees had since reported that they were being “hired” to maintain the facilities with a compensation of as little as one dollar a day. When a detainee had attempted to begin a work stoppage within the detention center, that person was removed immediately to solitary confinement. It appears that GEO corporation has developed a self-sustaining detention facility that capitalizes on the labor available from detainees, a captive labor force. It is clear that there is a human rights issue emerging that mirrors the labor conditions that persist in state Prisons.
Que tenemos? (Alianzas o grupos)
-La Colectiva Legal
-Universidad Washington Tacoma
-La Colectiva de Detenidos
Contra Que Peleamos?
-Negocio de inmigrantes
-Miedo y mito
-Maltrato de inmigrantes
-Injusticias con farm workers
-Grupos que nos “representan”
Que construimos? (estrategias para acciones/ideas)
-C2C- foro social- Portland
-Establecer contacto con mujeres centro de detención
-Conseguir personas que hablen lenguas indígenas para traducir
-Coalición centre comunidades ideas que esta pasando
-Formar una fuente de información
Queer Rights and Immigrant Rights
The goal of the group was to discuss and come up with ideas about how to work at the intersections of queer rights and immigrant rights. And think about how to engage with NDLON’s national call to action starting June 28th and lasting for two months. This call to action is focusing specifically on addressing this intersection, queer rights and immigrants rights.
Ideas / Discussion:
This is an opportune time to bring a lot of energy to this issue; many mainstream gay organizations are looking for what’s next and are generally in support of immigrants right. There is a question of what type of immigrants rights struggle are these mainstream gay orgs going to support left to their own accord. We could get involved in helping make sure that what that means is something we support, in-line with this movement to stop detentions, deportations and reduce the harm felt by immigrants in this country.
There is an interesting thing happening in Santa Anna California where with the intent or guise of making things safer for queer people, there is a LGBTQ specific detention center that was opened. The effect of this is just that there is one more detention center, and most likely just means there are more people being detained. Maybe there is some work we could do to call attention to this.
There was interest in:
- Direct action, blockades to stop buses perhaps with a visible queer presence.
- Working for increased access to healthy food and health care inside the detention center
- Supporting Miguel’s case
- This could go will with the training that NDOLN offered to come up here and do for us on how to do individual case support work and also how to use that work as a tool to advance the larger campaign to end deportations
- Constructing a letter to mainstream organizations that map out how to support this work or some principles of this work.
- Remembering and honoring lives lost and using that as a place to do some political education too about the risk and danger that folks face who’s struggle is often invisible.
- Learning more about the work other queer groups are doing in other cities to work at this intersection of queer rights and immigrants rights especially what people are doing in New York and through SONG Southerners on New Ground
- Book groups that could be fundraisers as well as time to sort of brainstorm creative ideas for action
- Film screenings of stonewall and connecting history with the present
- Calling a larger meeting with a few well thought out ideas and seeing if there is a critical mass to take them and run with them
- Looking at the Strong Families Campaign, which seems very much in-line, and seeing if there is opportunity for partnership
THE ENCOUNTER MOVING TOWARDS SOLIDARITY
As the report backs were being read, Jesus Cipriano Rios-Alegria, a hunger strike organizer inside the Northwest Detention Center was listening on the telephone.
Cipriano Rios-Alegria’s Family outside the Northwest Detention Center
An avid writer and poet, Rios-Alegria is a former union organizer and was active in the Latin American Left. Rios-Alegria is being held in the Northwest Detention Center as his case for Asylum is determined. He applied for asylum due to threats on his life by corrupt union officials and narco-cartels. He is being detained because of traffic violations.
Rios-Alegria, in a resounding voice, greeted the room, asked permission to speak, introduced himself and delivered the following address:
What we’re tired of is how they treat us, but we aren’t tired of this, we are very happy to be here together with all of you.
We feel much a part of the rain of ideas that is born of your active solidarity.
That in emerging from a just, noble and humanitarian cause reflects the spectrum of the different colors that make up the current collective.
This diversity implicates the strength that we have in working together.
Alongside the Dreamers when it comes to education, they sow the seeds for a better future.
To the farmworkers and the forest workers who labor upon the earth and nurture nature, they weave together the fabric of life,
And who in the face of abuse and exploitation like the earth, advance the cause and breadth of the Environmentalist Movement,
To those from different parts of the world who strengthen us with their cultural richness,
To the youth who have energy and innovative ideas,
To our brothers who have fought in battles,
If they do not accept us for who we truly are, for thinking differently, we can never speak of true equity.
Equally when they implement policies that discriminate against gender, age, color, religion, ideas.
Together with the professionals, with their academic training,
To the clergy and religious people who have supported us with their prayers and intentions, creating an avenue to build the character and wisdom that is absolutely necessary in the most difficult of moments,
blanketed below a roof made up of the union of workers who understand solidarity and cooperation with all of those present
To all of those present who have witness those who are not so well protected, who are consistently being humiliated and attacked by those who wield political and economic power,
who with their greed and arrogance, quickly forget who picks the fruit that they bring to their mouths,
who does the labor that makes their lives comfortable,
who form the base of the the economic greatness of this country, and are the foundation of its very creation,
The immigrants, those without papers,
We don’t doubt that results of the work groups that you just participated in,
on topics regarding the detention centers,
on prison reform, that share the same roof, in regards to their tactics and their practices that are no different between jails and detention centers,
Whose administration is the privilege of the private sector,
that create the conditions where that stain persists at whatever cost,
who don’t care what they have to do, including to violate laws in order to make profit,
The centers for detention in all of its different pavilions,
you can see women and men of many different cultures,
from the academics with credentials from various fields and capacities,
it is possible that we have the ability to see this important work become reality,
A combative and affectionate salutation to all!
Not One More!
End all Deportations!
End the Separation of Families!
Yes We Can!
Earlier this week, Detainees at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington held their second hunger strike in solidarity with a direct action at the White House by the Not One More Deportation Network.
July 31, 2014 demonstration at the White House. Photo by Jolinda Stephens
At least 150 detainees were reported as participating in the strike. Hunger striker Cipriano Rios-Alegria, according to Colectivo Legal del Pueblo attorney Alex West, was placed on administrative hold (solitary confinement) for the reason of: “Detainee pending investigation for trying to recruit other detainees for hunger strike” on July 31, 2014, meanwhile the entire detention center was placed on lockdown.
Cipriano Rios-Alegria’s paperwork. Photo by Alex West.
August 2, 2014 rally and march in Washington, D.C. Photo by Veronica Noriega.
Today, August 2, 2014 the Not 1 More Deportation network is hosting actions all over the country, with a special emphasis in Washington, D.C. as immigrant rights activists push for their voices to be considered, urging the Obama administration to use executive power to provide relief for immigrants who have been detained and deported on a massive scale. Under the current administration, over 2 million immigrants have been deported from the United States mirroring past white supremacist and racially motivated deportation policies from the Chinese Exclusion Act, Tidings McDuffy Act, Mexican Repatriation and Operation Wetback.
As a true labor organizer, Rios-Alegria in his synthesis of the PMA working groups report backs, made the connection between the mass deportations and detentions to driving down wages in both the service and agricultural labor industries where the most immigrants work. The economic logic of the policy is that Immigrants who are afraid of being detained, having their families separated, and deported are less likely to stand up for their rights and will take lower wages.
Familias Unidas por la Justicia Solidarity at first NWDC Hunger Strike. Photo by Deanna Torres.
Ramon Torres, President of Familias Unidas por la Justicia, a farm worker union that emerged last year in Burlington, Washington at Sakuma Brothers Farms, had also made the link between the farm worker justice movement that he is leading and the struggle of immigrants at the detention center. The union was one of the first to observe what have become almost weekly vigils at the Northwest Detention Center as over 550 detainees observed the first hunger strike.
The detainees demands have all but remained the same in the second hunger strike. Retaliation, has also remained the preferred strategy by the private corporation that runs the facility, even though they were sued by the ACLU after administrative actions taken to quell the first hunger strike.
Torres laments, “why is it that every time somebody stands up for their rights there is always a retaliation in this country? It’s not fair. There should be some kind of protection for organizers so that they are not subjected to retaliation by the companies for trying to make things better.”
Retaliation is common both on the inside and outside of the Detention center, members of Familias Unidas por la Justicia are currently locked out of working at Sakuma Bros Farms where they have harvested berries for more than a decade, despite a Skagit Superior Court Restraining Order that held that Sakuma Bros Farms must hire the farm workers because not doing so would fall in violation of state law that prohibits the interference and retaliation by employers upon workers for protected concerted activities, including the strikes that occurred last year and a boycott that is currently in effect and was recently endorsed by the Washington State Labor Council.
Torres emphasized, in relation to his counterpart Cipriano Rios-Alegria’s current solitary confinement, “we have to back up all organizers, especially those who are trying to change conditions in prisons because they are isolated and nobody knows how they are treated, thats why we have to support them.”
The inside/outside organizing strategy described at the PMA has expanded and proved to be successful. Detainees, Immigrants and Farmworkers continue to lead the with their organizing, hunger strikes, strikes, and boycotts.
UPCOMING SOCIAL FORUMS AND PMAS
The People’s of Colour Caucus will host a People’s Social Forum on August 21, 2014 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.
The Pacific Northwest Social Forum’s People’s Movement Assembly will take place in Portland, Oregon on September 26-28, 2014.