Nineteen activists, including one Yale student, were arrested Thursday afternoon in Boston while protesting deportation policies.
The demonstration, coordinated by the national anti-deportation campaign Not One More, attracted 150–200 activists from across New England who called for President Barack Obama to use executive powers to halt deportations and grant undocumented immigrants deferred action, which would allow them to stay in the country indefinitely.
Demonstrators picketed, sang and marched in front of the Suffolk County House of Correction, which holds hundreds of immigrant detainees slated for deportation alongside other incarcerated people. The detention center was the site of a hunger strike last October, and is currently embroiled in lawsuits alleging poor conditions and indefinite detention.
The activists who were arrested, among them Gregory Williams DIV ’15, had planned the act of civil disobedience in order to put more pressure on lawmakers, said Bliss Requa-Trautz, an organizer for Comunidades Justas, an immigrant advocacy group based in Springfiield, Mass.
“We came together from across New England to send a message to Obama that we want not one more deportation,” Requa-Trautz said. “Not only is our immigration system broken, but it’s also inhumane because families are torn apart and suffering.”
Over half of the 500 immigrants deported from Massachusetts were detained and deported under minor charges like traffic violations, she said.
After warning the 19 activists who were blocking the door of the prison three times over the course of an hour, police outfitted in riot gear began handcuffing and physically removing them. The men and women were moved to separate vans and taken to a police station in the city for processing at 1:30 p.m.
Williams said that once protestors got to the police station, authorities threatened to hold them until Tuesday, but they eventually released them around 10 p.m.
“The purpose of civil disobedience is to expose injustice and violence already taking place by forcing authorities to practice that violence out in the open,” Williams said. “The way we took control of the situation in jail was an exercise in community solidarity and resistance from within.”
Police were respectful and non-violent during the arrests, said New London immigration activist Sylvia Masson.
After hauling away the protestors, about 60 officers from ICE, local forces, and the sheriff’s department formed a blockade around the detention center.
“We fully respect people’s rights to free speech and peaceful protest, but when that protest infringes upon the safe and secure operation of our facility, we are obliged to take appropriate action,” Peter Van Delft, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, told the Boston Globe.
Another goal of the demonstration was to pressure Massachusetts to follow Connecticut and California in passing the Trust Act, which bars Immigration and Customs Enforcement from using local and state law enforcement data to identify and detain undocumented immigrants. Activists hope Massachusettes will become the third state to reel in Secure Communities, a far-reaching federal enforcement policy that has resulted in the highest number of deportations in American history.
Since Connecticut passed the Trust Act, deportations in the state have decreased, and immigrants are more likely to call local police if they are witnesses to or victims of a crime, Requa-Trautz said.
“The dragnet of deportation is as wide and overreaching as ever,” said B. Loewe, spokesperson for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. “The Trust Act is saving so many people who would be getting separated from their families by needless and unjust deportations.”
Organizers held the protest at the detention center not only to send a message to politicians, but also to send a message to the hundreds of detainees inside, Masson said “People in the detention center were watching us, and displaying ‘Not One More’ signs in their windows,” she said. “We wanted to show them that they were not alone — that we are here.”
According to ICE, 368,644 people were deported in 2013.