Turn the tide on deportations

December 17, 2013

Brian Huseby reports on immigrant rights protests on International Human Rights Day.

FOR INTERNATIONAL Human Rights Day this year, activists around the U.S. turned out on December 10 to demand that President Barack Obama end the deportation of immigrants.

When Obama was elected, many people expected hewould decrease, if not end, deportations. Instead, under his administration, more than 1.5 million people have been deported, and about 1,000 more are scheduled for deportation each day now.

Many activists took part in actions to call for Congress to pass immigration reform and end deportation quotas. In New Jersey, dozens attended a vigil outside the Elizabeth Detention Center, and eight were arrested after chaining themselves together and blocking the entrance. Actions took place across the country, including California, Arizona and Illinois.

In Tacoma, Wash., dozens of people rallied outside the Northwest Detention Center for International Human Rights Day.

The detention center itself is reason enough to stage a protest. It sits directly on top of a former toxic chemical dump and is managed by GEO Group Inc., which claims on its website to be the world's leading provider of correctional and detention management services. Many instances of substandard conditions have been reported at the detention center, including a serious outbreak of cases of food poisoning.

Protesters mark International Human Rights Day with a sit-in against deportations in Elizabeth, N.J.
Protesters mark International Human Rights Day with a sit-in against deportations in Elizabeth, N.J.

Lively chants of "Si se puede" and other slogans rang out, and protesters sang the Mexican birthday song in honor of the birthday of Human Rights Day. Most protesters blocked the street in front of the main gate, but left again when police were called, as an agreement had been made that no one would be arrested.

Some of the speakers at the rally urged the crowd to demand that Obama revive the so-called immigration reform bill that has languished in Congress. Others, however, focused on ending detentions and deportations. "What is happening here is that GEO is making profits off of splitting up families," said one speaker.

Oswaldo, a farmworker originally from Guatemala, traveled about 300 miles to ask people to support his attempt to have his son released from the center.

Luis Cortez, a lawyer who represents some of the detainees, said, "There are now about 1,500 people detained here. What most people don't realize is that the government has to pay a fine if the center is not kept full. I know that there are people here from as far away as Texas and Florida." GEO Group states the capacity at 1,575.

An evening candlelight vigil to protest border militarization and to remember those who have died trying to cross the border is planned for December 18.

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