Monday, July 1, 2019

One Year Ago—A Witness Against ICE and Immigrant Detention in Woodstock

As the vigil began the McHenry County Jail with its Immigration  detention unit on the top floor to the left gleamed in setting sunlight.  Photo  by Delby Guzman.
Note:  Almost exactly one year ago more than 200 gathered outside of the McHenry County Jail complex and Federal immigrant detention center in Woodstock, Illinois to protest brutal immigration policies and to demand the abolition of ICE—the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency which has ruthlessly applied that policy.  This year on Friday, July 12 even larger crowds will gather at 7:30 at the same location for a Lights for Liberty protest rally and vigil.  We encourage all who can to join us.  Perhaps you will be inspired by this photo essay of last year’s event.

A line of timely thunderstorms raced quickly across McHenry County finally breaking the oppressive heat and humidity that had gripped the area for three days.  The skies cleared, a hint of a breeze cooled the mid-summer evening air.  The sinking sun gleamed on the imposing walls of the McHenry County Adult Corrections Center and County Building that loomed over the wide parking lot separating two hundred or so who had gathered.  

The crowd gathered along the edge of the parking lot of the McHenry County Jail which houses an ICE Detention Center at 8 pm Sunday night for a dramatic protest vigil.  Photo courtesy Ken West.
The top floor of the left side of the building—the half with narrow rows of slit windows has been leased to ICE by the McHenry County government for use as an immigrant detention center.  In fact a number of years ago a fourth floor was added to the County Jail expressly for the purpose of renting to the Feds as a cash cow.  That it is still in operation eight years later is the shame of the County Board.
Sheriff Bill Prim, a right-wing Republican who is an enthusiastic booster of Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant policies, says he doesn’t know what all of the fuss is about, or why people would disturb the tranquility of a summer evening to make noise on the edge of his bailiwick.  He is quick to point out that none of the children ripped from their parents under the administration’s Zero Tolerance policy are held in the facility nor are any families.  All detainees are adults who may have been picked up anywhere.  Nothing to see here, according to Prim.
In fact the detainees come from around the world.  Many, if not most, are not even Latino and speak dozens of different native languages.  The Sheriff doesn’t mention that many have been torn from their families—wives, husbands, children including American citizens, mothers and fathers—representing family separation as surely as the ugly scenes at the border.
According to the Northwest Herald:
An agreement with the U.S. Marshals Service allows McHenry County to charge $95 a day for housing immigration detainees. The county also is compensated $46 an hour for transporting federal inmates. Between January 2016 and September 2017, the jail earned $14,570,699 from the agreement, invoices show.
The county’s contract with ICE has resulted in several lawsuits against Sheriff Bill Prim. The suits, which since have been dismissed, accused Prim of illegally detaining people in violation of the Trust Act, which bars police from searching, arresting or detaining a person simply because of their immigration status.

Outrage over those border separations and heartbreakingly cruel child detentions has sparked a massive protest movement that included the hundreds of thousands in more than 700 separate Families Belong Together actions across the country on Saturday.  But awareness is growing that the whole system is broken and thoroughly corrupt.  The vigil in Woodstock was meant to express that and demand fundamental change including the dismantlement of ICE itself.

Sameena Mustafa..  Photo by Elizabeth Linquist.

I arrived at the rally just after it started at 8 pm.  The crowd was still gathering in a semi-circle around a youngish woman in a modified orange sari speaking through an electric bullhorn—speaking well and passionately.  That was Sameena Mustafa one of the principle organizers of the vigil and the host for the evening.  Mustafa is a former Planned Parenthood manager and a deeply involved community volunteer who ran as a progressive against incumbent Democrat Mike Quigley in this March’s 5th District Congressional primary.  Her deep and wide connections helped secure the quality speakers at the vigil and helped bring activists from around the Metropolitan area to join locals at the event. 

Yesenia Mata. Photo by Delby Guzman

Yesenia Mata is Political Director of Dream Action Coalition (DRM) and studies at the John Marshall Law School.  She is one of the most prominent young leaders of the Chicago-area immigration justice movement and a nationally respected spokesperson for the Dreamers—the young people brought to this country as children who have made lives for themselves as contributing members of the only country they have ever really known.

Mata introduced Olivia Segura, whose tragic story brought tears to the eyes of many.  Her daughter, Ashley Sietsema, was killed in a vehicle accident while on active duty with the Army as a nurse’s aide in a medical battalion in Kuwait in 2007.  Although Mexican-born Segura is a U.S. Citizen, her second husband Alberto, who helped raise Ashley since she was four years old and who is the biological father of Segura’s 21-year-old son, Kyle, is not a citizen. He has been attempting to gain citizenship for years, but has been denied because of two non-violent felony drug convictions dating back more than a decade.  

Olivia Segura with Jill Manrique, one of the principle organizers of the vigil, holding the bullhorn. Photo by Elizabeth Lindquist.

While grieving over Ashley’s death Olivia turned to the numbing comfort of prescription pills and her husband drank.  That drinking ultimately earned him DUI convictions and landed him in immigration court facing deportation.  She desperately sought help for her husband but was continually told that nothing could be done.  Then came the good news that the Executive Office for Immigration Review ordered that Alberto’s deportation case be “administratively closed,” because of “humanitarian consideration.”  But the deportation process was not officially ended and Alberto was caught in limbo, unable to gain citizenship status or a work visa.

Trump, of course canceled humanitarian suspensions of deportation proceedings.  Albert was arrested and now sits in the ICE Detention Center in Woodstock awaiting a final expulsion and permanent separation from his citizen family.  Olivia accuses the government of violating Constitutional prohibition of double jeopardy by essentially punishing her husband again for old, non-violent crimes for which he has already paid the price.  In her long fight to keep her family united, Olivia Segura has become a public face of opposition to mindless ICE cruelty.

United Methodist Pastor Emma Lozano. Photo by Delby Guzma
The Rev Emma Lozano is co-pastor with her husband, the Rev. Walter Coleman, who I used to know as Slim Coleman years ago in his days with Chicago’s radical greaser newspaper Rising Up Angry, of the Lincoln United Methodist Church in Pilsen.  In 2006 as pastor of the Adalberto United Methodist Church she gave refuge to Elvira Arellano, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico whose story made national headlines. Arellano became a face of the immigration debate and Lozano’s church became a symbol of the sanctuary church movement, which grew rapidly because of the publicity. Arellano was deported to Mexico in 2007. 

Lozano is the founder and face of Centro/Pueblo Sin Fronteras, a grassroots organization that gives aid and support to many families facing deportation.  Among the many who have been assisted was Olivia Segura.

Cesar Vargas. Photo by Delby Guzman. 
Cesar Vargas is a nationally known immigration reform advocate who made history when a New York court paved the way for him to become the first undocumented immigrant to practice law in the state.  His organization, the Dream Action Coalition is a leading force in the movement of Dreamers to secure the right to stay in the country in which they have been raised since childhood.  Vargas shared a moving account of his last night in Mexico when he was four years old with his Mother and brother as they prayed in Church and their perilous flight across the border.  His struggle to get an education, complete law school, and pass the bar was made possible by the sacrifices of his mother.  But Vargas also acknowledged that it is easy to stir-up sympathy for high-achieving Dreamers like himself, who will obviously be assets to the country.  Meanwhile other immigrants, including desperate refugees are painted as criminals, potential terrorists, drug pushers, job thieves, and welfare idlers by Trump propaganda which is too often believed in whole or in part by many.

Pam Shearman with Sameena  Mustafa .  Photo by  Delby Guzman

Pam Shearman is the coordinator for jail visits at four ICI Detention Centers including the one in McHenry County for the Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants.  She oversees a cadre of volunteers who make pastoral care visits to detainees often providing them their only contact to the outside world.  This is the same great program that was represented by volunteer Sue Rekenthaler at the recent Families Belong Together Woodstock rally.

Christopher Sims is a Unitarian Universalist spoken word poet and unofficial lay minister from Rockford who also performs as UniverSouLove and has recently been very involved with the Poor Peoples Campaign.  Sim wrote a poem, Detained Humanity especially for the McHenry County vigil.  It is printed in its entirety at the end of this post.

Candles lit.  Photo by Pam Sourelis.
As the sun was setting and the speeches wound down, the Old Man had to leave to get ready for his overnight shift at a Crystal Lake gas station/convenience store.  But the vigil went on without me.  Folks lit their candles as beacons of hope to the detainees inside the jail.  They prayed, sang, and bore silent witness.  

Raising Lights of hope.
Then there was a short processional march to lay flowers of remembrance at the monument sign for the Correctional Center.  After the formal program concluded many participants drifted back to the parking lot, this time immediately in front of the building where they had been explicitly warned not to trespass.  They held their candles aloft in hopes that they could be seen from inside the facility.  Neither the handful of Sheriff’s deputies watching close by made any attempt to disperse them.

U.U. poet Christopher D. Sims,  Photo by Delby Guzman.

Detained Humanity

Mi amigos, mi Amiga’s, ninos
Gringos are detaining your
humanity. The insanity taking
place in the United States is
not to be honored, respected,

You are faced with the worst of odds.

It’s odd a homeland that exists with
all kinds and flavors of woman and
man cannot stand the site of you
as you choose where you want to live.

Existence is not to be politicized,
scrutinized, or penalized. My people—
indigenous African people—were forced
upon this soil. We had to fight and die
for civil rights. Your plight is much the
same. North America wants you worried
or worn out just so they can play the same
game with your precious lives.

At the border a war is going on. You’re
not down if you’re brown, even if in

this country you were born. Even if in
this country you were born. We’ve sworn
to the flag an allegiance unyielding,
passionate, and hopeful. Borders should
never contain walls, we are a people global.

The United Nations should have stations

all across the land to help defend woman

and man who has a plan to set themselves
free or engage in economic opportunities
instead of creating jail cells that exploit and house
communities of color.

We are all one in this sister, brother, lover,
fighter, warrior, soldier, survivor, provider, person
with a dream, human being.

To detain who you are denies you the sacred
stars hovering inside your galaxies as you fight
with tenacity to gain the rights you deserve.

How can your life be captured on cards or legal papers,
when collectively, we are universal neighbors

on a planet that should see all of us as one?

At the border, the sun makes you sweat.

Politicians forget their ancestors were immigrants
too. That's not fiction, it's not falsehood, and it's
not North American made voodoo.

Your spirit will not be detained behind jail cells
as they create catastrophe, denial. Why should
anyone's humanity ever be put on trial?

I pray for the children, I meditate for the fathers, I sing
a song for the disconnected mothers. In this land of
imbalanced legislation we've forgotten how to be
the keepers of our brothers.

A soul detained, soon freedom they will gain

to ease the pain of the people. The warfare is lethal.

The treatment of babies, children is unbelievable.

I wish you peace in the rising of a revolution

Where love, acceptance, and civility is shown.

You are, we are unequal citizens in a land some of us
have always called home.

I wish you peace in the rising of a revolution
where love, acceptance, and civility is shown.

© Christopher D. Sims

June 28, 2018

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