"I missed my children," said a formerly detained mother. She spent thiry months in this GEO-operated Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington separated from her chlldren. "What is our crime? We only want a change to stay in this country - to be safe. Many of us have fled places where our lives were in danger."
She joined other women in a 2014 hunger strike to protest conditions inside the Detention Center as well as the policies that keep men and women detained and separated from their families. Although she is now outside and reunited with her children, she has promised the women still detained to stand with them and to fight for their release. She adopted two little girls whose mother is still in detention. "Don't ignore us," she pleaded. "We need your help and support."
The Vigil was organized by the Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice (Oregon) and several Washington groups: Washington New Sanctuary Movement, Puentes: Advocacy, Counseling and Education and the Church Council of Greater Seattle. The Vigil called for an end to the separation of immigrants and their families.
I learned that the Detention Bed Mandate passed by U.S. Congress in 2009 requires Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to fill 34,000 detention beds for immigrants at any given time. The GEO group which runs this detention center is one of two coporations (the other is Corrections Corporation of America=CCA) that operate these facilities.
It is a money-making operation. It is estimated that each person costs the U.S> taxpayer $164 per day for a daily cost of $5.5 million and an annual cost of $2 billion a year for the detention of immigrants. Why are we doing this? Who benefits? Not the immigrants or us, the taxpayers, but the corporations benefit greatly.
There are lower cost alternatives to incarceration - telephone reporting, release on bond and community-based support programs. ICE estimates these alternatives would have an average cost of $5.16 per day per detainee. These alternatives are more humane, would not separate families and are more cost effective. Congressman Adam Smith (D) of Washington will shortly introduce legislation that would provide funding for community-based programs at a lower cost and would repeal mandatory detention laws and defund appropriations quotas.
ACTIONS: We signed letters to the detainees and signed a letter of support to Congressman Smith. I invite you to write your Member of Congress asking him to co-sponsor the Adam Smith bill.
We also held stones up high in the direction of the Detention Center and remembered those inside. We placed the stones on our heart as the names of all those who have died in detention this past year.
Finally, we took flowers and placed them in the wire fence surrounding the detention center. Were our songs and voices heard by the detainees? Who knows? The women and men who were visiting detainees could tell them that there are people who are committed to changing this inhumane and unjust system. We were outside but working to free those inside. JOIN US!
PHOTOS OF THE VIGIL
My life has been about crossing borders and cultures and building bridges across the boundaries that normally divide. Have you crossed any borders in your life?