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Central Falls City Council members lead march against Wyatt Detention Center



Lead by Central Falls City Council President Maria Rivera (at large) and City Councilors Jessica Vega (Ward 5), Jonathan Acosta (Ward 1) and Franklin Solano (Ward 4), around 150 people marched from Central Falls City Hall to Wyatt Detention Center to demand the revocation of the contract to house United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees and the immediate closure of the facility.

After the Rhode Island ACLU revealed that Wyatt is holding more than 100 ICE detainees and that there is a contract with ICE to hold up to 225 detainees, Central Falls Mayor James Diossa and representatives from the City Council held an emergency meeting at which they maintained that the contract signed with the United States Marshall Service to house ICE detainees at Wyatt was improperly made and illegal.

According to the contract, ICE needs the beds at Wyatt “in support of the Southwest Border Zero Tolerance initiative.” This policy, rolled out by former United States Attorney General Jefferson Sessions in April 2018, “prohibits both attempted illegal entry and illegal entry into the United States by an alien.” In other words, people who have committed no crimes except to travel to the United States without documentation.

Below is video from the march and protest:

The first goal of the City Council, said President Maria Rivera, “is to make sure that the contract the City signed is not a valid contract and that we reverse that as soon as possible. We cannot allow them to continue detaining our immigrants that are being detained at the border right now…

Maria Rivera

“The second mission is to shut down the Wyatt!,” continued Rivera. “We are a community built by immigrants and we are hurting our own people. We need to shut them down! …

“None of us in the City were aware of the contract just signed in February. So regardless of what you here, I can reassure you over and over and over that we did not know that that was happening and if we knew that that was going to happen we would have stopped that and that contract would have never been signed….”

James Baldwin,” said City Councilor Jessica Vega. “I Am Not Your Negro. Immigrants are not your mule. Their bodies are not there for you to profit off of them. They don’t belong to you. Their souls will not be broken by these four walls. The hypocrisy of the land of the free has been amplified by this racist, classist, xenophobic Trump Administration.

Jessica Vega

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“The lack of empathy that this administration has shown is shameful and disgusting,” continued Vega. “The Wyatt holds up to 225 prisoners. You don’t want us in your country but you want to profit off our captivity.

“My duty as a councilwoman, as a free woman, is to not stay silent through this industrial prison complex. We have all been compliant here, every single one of us, because this happens every day. This isn’t new, so you shouldn’t stay silent, I’m not going to stay silent. I have nothing but time and energy to make sure that these people are free.

“Thank you all and power to the people!”

“Ever since the beginning of time it seems that segregation and discrimination have ruled ruled how we as humans are able to live,” said Daniella Magana, a senior at Blackstone Valley Prep Academy. “Our success, our level of education and even the level of respect that we receive our determined by the color of our skin…”

Daniella Magana

“The diversity in our City makes us special. The fact that we have Puerto Rican, Guatemalan, Cape Verdean, Colombian, Portuguese, Salvadoran and Mexican, only to name a few cultures, being represented in one square mile is beyond unique,” continued Magana.

“As the smallest City in the smallest State, there is no need for a detainment center. Wyatt is an affront to what we as a City stand for. Wyatt represents inequality. It represents inhumanity. But most importantly, Wyatt doesn’t belong in Central Falls.

“We are all humans, we all deserve respect. The detainees deserve, like us, what the Constitution enumerates as our natural rights. Immigration rights are natural rights. Enough is enough.”

“I find it ironic that the self proclaimed land of the free, in the smallest city in the smallest state of these United States has a barbed wire structure that profits of of housing what they claim are criminals,” said City Councilor Jonathan Acosta, wearing a tee shirt with the image of boxer Mohammad Ali. “It’s ridiculous that we have a jail here…”

Jonathan Acosta

“In the early 1990s I was but a child, and at that point the City was faced with a ridiculous choice,” continued Acosta. “It had to choose whether to build an incinerator, or a jail. The message was clear. We were either trash or criminals. And we refuse to be labeled as either.

“We are not criminals. We are not trash. We don’t want an incinerator and we definitely don’t want a jail in our City…”

“Our country was built on the backs of immigrant and slave labor. It’s time we acknowledged that and welcomed their contributions, rather than obscure and ignore them and their children.

“I want to close by acknowledging that this struggle will be long. We will not get rid of this jail today, we will not get rid of this jail tomorrow. But I’m reminded today and hopeful, of the words of the great Mohammad Ali, who in 1975 stood in front of a commencement class at Harvard, and delivered the shortest poem in the history of the English language.

It was simple: He took his hand out and he said, “Me. We.”

“And we will stand together and make sure that we get rid of the Wyatt.”

“This country, this City, this nation is better with immigrants,” said City Councilor Franklin Solano. “And we are here to better this country… We are making it better!”

Franklin Solano

Here is the rest of the video:

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About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.