Friday morning (Nov 18th 2011) 270 activists for immigrant justice marched from the Stewart County Courthouse to the Stewart Detention Center [Georgia, USA], the largest privately owned detention center in the United States. Gathered in the center square of Lumpkin, GA, the activists heard from community organizers and faith leaders from across the state, who urged the crowd to stand strong in their fight to close the Detention Center.
Xochitl Bervera of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights and veteran civil rights organizer Theresa El-Amin from the Southern Anti-Racism Network spoke of Black and Brown unity, reminding the crowd that just as our African American ancestors were enslaved and forced to work to produce our food, our immigrant brothers and sisters are mistreated and exploited in fields and factories today.
Following the speeches, the activists marched a mile and half to the Detention Center, carrying with them a clothesline hung with over 900 orange and blue shirts, each bearing the name of an immigrant from Dalton, GA, who had been detained or deported within the last year. At the entrance to the Detention Center, the crowd regrouped to hear a song sung by family members of detained undocumented, lead by America Gruner of Dalton, GA.
Afterward, the recently reunited Guzman family spoke of their struggle to free Pedro Guzman, an immigrant who spent 20 months in the Stewart Detention Center before being released in May. Pedro and his wife Emily Guzman expressed their thanks to the movement that supported them, and vowed to continue their fight for human rights for all immigrants.
Moments later, the crowd began singing “We shall overcome” while activist Chris Spicer from Chicago, IL, crossed the police barricade in an act of civil disobedience in solidarity with the immigrants detained within the prison walls. Chris, who was recently released from serving a six-month sentence for crossing the line at the 2010 Vigil to Close the School of the Americas, was brought before Judge Wayne Ammons, who set the bond for this criminal trespass charge exorbitantly high at $5000. Responding to news that detainees were fasting to commemorate this fifth annual vigil at the gates of the Stewart facility, Chris announced that he too would be fasting, "to purify this unjust system. The SOA and inhumane immigration policies are part of the same racist system of violence and domination."
Georgia Detention Watch organizer Anton Flores, from the Alterna Community, was wrongfully arrested at the close of the action, after media and legal observers had left. Despite video evidence proving Anton did not trespass, the police refused to stop harassing him, and only after the evidence was presented to Judge Ammons were his charges dismissed.