The Metrics of Change

Last week, the news broke that some really wonderful people at the National Immigrant Youth Alliance had literally infiltrated the Broward Transitional Center in Florida, what can only be described as a waiting-room-come-prison for immigrants.

News trickled out that they were recording the stories of other people in the detention center, some who were in serious medical trouble, countless others who were being held for months, if not years, for having broken tail lights and an assortment of other ridiculous transgressions.  Ultimately, ICE wasn’t too pleased with what Viri and Marco were doing, so they kicked them out, but not before they inspired over 450 people to go on a hunger strike.  You can sign the petition for their release here.

At the same time, the Undocubus rolled through Texas, and myself and La Kemster of DreamActivist spent time with the riders.  Much fun was had and I’ll just say that I had a very specific role to play in hooking them up with a good time in Austin.

One of the events that they held was a teach-in, co-hosted by the Detention Watch Network and the Hutto Visitation Program.  Riders on the bus and some folks from Waco went one by one, telling their stories of being detained for having too many political bumper stickers (that’s not an exaggeration) and having broken tail lights. Each of them had been detained for at least several months, if not 10. But because these folks were activists or had communities on the outside actively supporting them, they actually got off easy, if you could say that. They met folks in detention who had been there for for a year- some, two.

They all shared the incredible humiliation and dehumanization they felt while they were in detention. The private prison guards are held to little if any standards, and routinely abuse detainees, from sexually assaulting and threatening women to smashing art projects to “working” in the detention kitchens for $1-$3 a day.  The lights are always on, making it hard to sleep, and they get barely any time outside in the “recreation” area, which is usually a yard with high walls and a rectangular sky criss-crossed by fence.  ICE officers constantly push people to sign paperwork that they don’t understand – which is usually a voluntary deportation order.  All of this, in addition to the fact that most people have no idea where their family is, whether they’re okay, whether anybody knows that they’ve been detained, or whether anybody in the world gives a damn about them.

How amazing, then, that Viri and Marco had the guts to put themselves in detention and let several hundred people know that there are people on the other side of the wall who care about them and their stories.  From humiliation to humanization, these are the intangible metrics of real change.

Check out pictures from the Broward county action here.

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