The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), which brings people of various faiths together to work for social justice, peace and humanitarian service, has been holding vigils at the GEO detention center in Aurora each month since May 2009. So supporters were understandably discouraged when Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) recently renewed and expanded its contract with the private detention center that houses many immigrants. The AFSC, along with several other groups and allies, voiced their concerns at GEO last night.
According to the AFSC, ICE renewed its contract with the for-profit detention center for another ten years and expanded the number of people that can be detained there from 432 to 525.
"I think one of the things it means to us is, we're still seeing the Obama administration say one thing and do another," says Jennifer Piper, Interfaith Organizer for Immigrant Rights with the AFSC. "We see him saying they're not going to detain and deport people who are long-term members of our community and low risk to our community, and in the meantime, we see a contract for detention with this facility expand, which indicates that more people are going to be detained in our communities."
The AFSC claims the renewal means tax payers will continue to give $23 million to GEO each year.
"People need to learn about immigrant detention and the fact that so much of it is for profit and that their tax money is going to line the pockets of companies like GEO to the tune of $130 per day per detainee and that that money could be going to lots of other programs in our country," Piper says.
Speakers at the vigil also lamented the continuing recognition of Columbus Day, which falls on Monday. Attendees each wrote on Post-it notes something they would do to break free from the oppressive conditions they say followed Christopher Columbus's arrival and live on today. They then passed rolls of yarn, so that the entire group was connected, attached their notes to the yarn and then marched to the detention center's entrance. There, the group's members wove the yarn through the facility's sign and trees.
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"It's really, really sad to be here with mothers, fathers, sons, friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, any people who are crying for people who have been inside," says Pedro, a protester who asked his last name not be used. "It's for nothing. We are safe. We are humans."
Among the stories told at the vigil was that of a migrant mother who said her son was physically and sexually abused while in the detention center.
"I think on the immigrant community, the affect of this place is a huge amount of fear and also the feeling that this society rejects them -- that they're disposable to us and all we care about is the work that they do -- and after that, we could care less about what happens to them," Piper says. "Part of the reason for the vigils is to communicate that there is a community of support that doesn't agree with these policies and to provide immigrants with the opportunity to tell their owns stories."
Scroll down for pictures from the protest. More from our Immigration archive: "Immigrant border deaths as important as rancher Rob Krentz's murder, protester says."