“This is an important first step toward ending ICE’s attacks on our immigrant neighbors here in Rhode Island,” said Never Again Action organizer Aaron Regunberg. “A ban on private prisons would prevent the sale of the Wyatt to a for-profit prison company, which would remove what little public accountability and oversight there is for this facility.”
On Thursday, after months of organizing and protests, culminating in a planned occupation of the Rhode Island State House, Governor Gina Raimondo agreed to support a ban on the operation of private prisons in the state. Raimondo also committed to dedicating staff to work with Never Again Action around the group’s call to end all state and local collaboration with United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The original plan of Never Again Action, following the lead of AMOR (Alliance to Mobilize Our Resistance), was to hold a Sukkot celebration in the State House rotunda, and then for a group of activists to not leave until State House leaders agreed to three demands:
- Shut down the Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls and ban private prisons
- Work to release people detained by ICE at Wyatt
- Ban all local and state collaboration with ICE
AMOR is a group dedicated to advocating for undocumented immigrants. The Wyatt Detention Facility signed a controversial agreement with the United States Marshall Service to house ICE detainees earlier this year, and has been the focus of intense organizing since then.
On Thursday morning, Governor Raimondo reached out to protest organizers and arranged a meeting. Representatives from Never Again Action, AMOR, the Central Falls City Council, and the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island met with the Governor, who was described as being sympathetic, but noncomital. Never Again Action described the meeting on Facebook, writing, “In our meeting this morning, Governor Raimondo expressed empathy for the immigrant community and interest in enacting change that would protect our immigrant neighbors. However, she also said ‘I’m not committing to anything today.'”
However, at around 3:45pm, the Governor’s press Secretary Josh Block released the following statement from Raimondo:
“This is a moral and deeply personal issue for many Rhode Island families. I had the opportunity earlier today to meet with the local groups leading this movement, and I appreciate their activism and passion. President Trump’s actions on immigration are inhumane and immoral, and I stand with Rhode Islanders in opposing his policies. I would support legislation from the General Assembly that prohibits private prisons in Rhode Island.”
This allowed Never Again Action organizer, former State Representative Aaron Regunberg, to announce a victory, as Raimondo had acquiesced to at least part of the protester’s demands. The Governor also promised to assign people in her office to work with the groups on the rest of their demands. The planned occupation of the State House was called off, but the celebration of Sukkot continued until the State House closed at 6:30pm or so.
“This is an important first step toward ending ICE’s attacks on our immigrant neighbors here in Rhode Island,” said Regunberg. “A ban on private prisons would prevent the sale of the Wyatt to a for-profit prison company, which would remove what little public accountability and oversight there is for this facility. But this is only a first step. Now, we need the governor and other state leaders to follow through in introducing and passing legislation that would ban private prisons and meeting the rest of our demands to end all collaboration with ICE in Rhode Island.”
Other speakers included Dr Aurit Lazerus, an expert in generational trauma, like that experienced by Jewish people during the holocaust.
Arely Diaz and another person from AMOR spoke:
“The prison industry becomes richer at the expense of innocent men, women, and children,” said Heiny Maldonado, executive director of Fuerza Laboral. “The prosperity of greedy corporations who work with ICE depends on people losing their freedom, as we’ve seen the separation of thousands of children from their immigrant parents who crossed the southern border of the country. We need to eliminate private prisons, as well as the fees that ICE detainees are forced to pay.”
Lex Rofeberg explained the importance of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, when Jews traditionally build a sukkah, or temporary shelter, to commemorate the 40 years Jews spent migrating in the desert. Protestors built and decorated a sukkah in the central rotunda of the State House and vowed to remain there until state leaders responded.
Never Again Action organizer Tal Frieden closed out the speaking program.
Never Again Action, AMOR, and Fuerza Laboral emphasized that the fight to close the Wyatt and get ICE out of Rhode Island is not over.
“State leaders have stood by and watched as the Wyatt Detention Facility contracted with ICE to wage war on human beings whose only crime is seeking safety and hope for their families,” said Regunberg. “We’re here today because we refuse to stand by and watch. We appreciate and applaud the governor’s public pledge today, on behalf of all the community members from Never Again, AMOR, Fuerza Laboral, and other groups who have raised their voices and demanded action. We said we wouldn’t leave the State House until we got a response. Now, we’ve got to hold our leaders accountable. And if we need to, we’ll come back.”
Building a Sukkah:
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