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Central Falls Mayor, City Council President visit Wyatt Detention Center



“Having gone down to the border to protest with mayors both from the Democratic Party [and] the Republican Party – To see this happening in your own back yard, to see folks in there who wouldn’t leave their country of origin for no other circumstances than life, death, famine is very sad. It’s unfortunate that this country is going through something like that… It’s not a good experience as Mayor to be able to be dealing with this situation.”

– Central Falls Mayor James Diossa

Central Falls Mayor James Diossa and City Council President Maria Rivera toured the Wyatt Detention Center on Wednesday with Warden Daniel Martin and two lawyers representing the facility, Matthew Lopes and Angelynne Cooper, both from the law firm of Pannone Lopes Devereaux & O’Gara.

Diossa brought with him his Chief of Staff Joshua Giraldo, Immigration Attorney Deborah Gonzalez, community activist Natalie Lerner from AMOR, City Solicitor Matthew Jerzyk, Dr Jody Rich and Providence Journal reporter Kevin Andrade. All the names were added by the Mayor after Warden Martin had, in a letter (see below), invited the Mayor to add additional people to the list of visitors.

At first only Mayor Diossa was going to be allowed to speak to Wyatt officials, outside of the earshot of reporters. That’s Mattew Lopes, Angelynne Cooper and Warden Martin facing Mayor Diossa.

Upon arrival at the facility there was some confusion. After making the Mayor wait in the lobby for five minutes, the Warden and his legal counsel informed the Mayor that only the people initially on his list would be allowed. This list included the Mayor, his Chief of Staff, the City Council President and Dr Michael Fine, who was in Washington DC yesterday. No one else would be allowed inside.

When ProJo reporter Andrade asked why he would not allow the entire group inside, Attorney Lopes said, “I do not run this facility. I have no comment.” Warden Martin was similarly unresponsive.

Left in the lobby, City Solicitor Jerzyk spoke about how the tour of the facility came about. The Mayor wanted access to the detainees to determine their health and treatment. The Warden informed the Mayor that per orders of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “direct access to the detainees is prohibited.”

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The Warden said that a tour of the facility was possible, with “full access to the housing unit to observe the living conditions of the detainees, to look inside the cells and showers, and take a general tour of the facility.”

The official reason for not allowing the rest of the people Mayor Diossa invited along was that they had not been vetted.

Rivera, Rich, Diossa, Lerner, Gonzalez and Jerzyk

Left in the lobby, Attorney Gonzalez said that her interest in the tour had to do with the Immigrant Coalition gaining access to the detainees to do Know Your Rights trainings, trainings on credible fear and reasonable fear interviews that are going to be conducted, and to determine if the Colation could get the detainees access to religious clergy, mental health workers and social workers, to be able to provide “a holistic service menu.”

As for what she would have been looking for on the tour, Gonzalez said that she wanted to know if anyone is doing Know Your Rights trainings inside, whether the inmates are here on criminal charges and being detained on mandatory detainers and, “I want to know, are they really being brought through the border, which is how we understand this to be happening… because there are no beds at the southern border. I want to know if there’s legal representation that these folks have access to, so they can at least prepare for these interviews that are coming…”

Gonzalez pointed out that all the pro bono services listed on the ICE website are located in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

“We don’t even know where these people have come from,” said Natalie Lerner, an immigration advocate from AMOR, who was also denied entry. “We can’t even contact their consulates because we don’t know what country they’re from.”

Dr Jody Rich has visited detention facilities “on four different continents.” He was asked to come along to evaluate the conditions of confinement and the healthcare of the detainees. he was also denied entry into the facility.

“The detainees seemed like they were pretty relaxed,” said Council President Rivera. “Sitting around, talking to each other, playing board games. We didn’t have access, couldn’t speak to them, so I don’t have details… They have 62 [detainees] right now. They had 133. I was told that the other ones have signed a waiver with their consulate to go back to their country.”

Rivera later said that the detainees all looked like minors. Since most have no documentation, the Warden told her that they accept the age given is accurate, and treat them as adults.

Here’s the video of Mayor Diossa fresh after his tour, as quoted at the beginning of this piece.

The letter from Warden Martin to Mayor Diossa:

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Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for half a decade. Uprise RI is his new project, and he's doing all he can to make it essential reading.