Greetings from Richmond!
The faces of children and their mothers being released from detention centers continue impacting the community as a whole. All of the families that have arrived recently, have been forced to migrate to the United States from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras (primarily). The United States devastating, invasive policies in Latin America have created a war zone in our countries. The so called “war on drugs” as just one example among many of polices that have contributed to the levels of violence in these countries.
Forced internal displacement and international displacement is not a personal choice. Families are being forced to leave their love ones, their land, their identity and the environment that is familiar, risking their lives just in order to eat. Despite the fact that the United States created their situation, families are being forced to migrate. In the last few years under Obama’s administration, more than 2 million of immigrants have been deported. Private companies, such as GEO Group Inc, and Corrections Cooperation of America, CCA (the first and second largest prison companies in the US) continue being contracted by the government. Now not only are they contracted to build and profit from men’s and women’s detention facilities, but now also for for building Family Detention Centers across the country. Children being put in a cell with their mother without being fed. They are discriminated against, have zero access to legal representation, and in many cases do not have language access to understand where they are, how long they will be held in cages, and what the process will be for them to leave.
Those mothers and children are here, in our state, in Richmond, and at every city around this country. For just the last two weeks, it has been a weekly event for us at Wayside to find out where families and individuals need to report to, to hear the abuses that they go through, and finding volunteers who can take them to the Processing Office in Arlington VA, fearing of what will happened there to them and if they will be deported on that day. During their “process appointment” that takes from 3 to 4 hours, the women have left with an ankle bracelet, and instructions of what they can’t do. ICE agents come every week to their house, they look at them and scan the ankle bracelet. Once a week, they have to report to the ICE office in Richmond, meet with an agent and being asked if they already have their passports, birth certificates and other travel information.
As one of the communities members expressed at one of our organizing meetings last week: “We live in constant fear, and constant reminder of what will and can happened to all of us and our children. Some of us don’t have the ankle bracelet and some of us do, the ones of us that don’t have it, when we look at the ones who do, we are reminded that we are being treated as trash and criminals, and that this could be us at any moment”.
The importance of building power and organizing at a community level, in the barrio, is what creates the foundation to build a stable long haul movement. Every week, we have community meetings, where together we build an analysis of what is forcing our migration, understanding what policies such as the “drug on war” create in our countries and are related to the violence that has forced them to leave. During these meetings, while people share their personal stories, relate to each other, become stronger by knowing that they are not alone, building an analysis of the current situation at a local and international level, and strategizing on what and how to do to come out of the shadows, and put out publicly the abuses and criminalization that their community goes through every day.
From ESL classes, to homework tutoring, dance classes, embroidery group, gardening, standing at the bust stop while mothers wait for their children to come from school, or walking around the community and talking with youth, building relationship and inviting them to the community meetings. This is the organizing happening on the ground every week.
This last week, on Monday the 13th, a group of families that have organized around school issues, came together to meet with the new Richmond Public School Superintendent. We all presented the demands that the group asked RPS to follow after a discrimination event that happened here last year at one of the local High Schools and which encouraged the families and youth to organize and demand a stop to every act of discrimination and criminalization against immigrant students in the schools. With the appropriate interpretation, the dialogue started and the families expressed what their reality is at the Richmond public Schools, from not having access to someone who speaks their language, not receiving school information translated, to children and youth being suspended without parents even knowing what has happened.
Youth, men, women, families, children, every individual participating in the organizing meetings and other activities, have been raising their voice, seeing how other Latino community leaders have organized and demanded a change in the schools, and now, everyone has been coming together to build a campaign to end deportations and the criminalization of families.
You will hear soon about how families will start brick by brick building a Richmond for everyone!