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What it was like Protesting at the Richmond Jail & Challenging ICE

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By Nevin Long

Around 100 demonstrators gathered outside the West County Detention Facility in Richmond Friday to protest the separation of migrant children from their parents at the US-Mexican border.

The rally, organized jointly by the San José chapters of Together We Will and Indivisible, was just one of dozens around the country this week in cities as disparate as Philadelphia and Pinellas, Florida. In Richmond, assemblents decried the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy for undocumented immigrants, calling the practice inhumane.

The Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office, which operates the facility, says its deputies do not make arrests on the basis of immigration status. But according to office’s website, an average of 200 people suspected of immigration violations are housed at the Richmond site on any given day per an agreement with the US Marshals Service, an agreement to which Immigration and Customs Enforcement is a party. West County has a capacity of 1,096 people, meaning that at any given time a minimum of 20 percent of the jail is devoted to housing ICE detainees.

A protest sign, is held above the West County Detention Facility, where an average of 200 ICE detainees are held daily in Richmond, Calif. on June 22, 2018. Photo by Betty Rose Livingston

The arrangement with ICE helps CCSO financially, bringing in around $6 million in gross annual revenue that “reduces the local taxpayers’ burden for the overall operating costs”.

Sweating under the noonday sun, cameramen from Telemundo and NBC Bay Area looked on as Felicia Gershberg of Together We Will-San José addressed the crowd.

“I’m here because of the parents who might never see their children again,” Gershberg said.

Protesters ranged in age from mere months old to seniors. Isabel Beacham, a grandmother of two, said she was attending her first protest. In a reference to totalitarian regimes of the past, she said, “We’ve seen this before.”

“I go to bed every night with a knot in my stomach,” Beacham said, “You don’t know what’s happening with these kids.”

A young child holds a sign which reads ”Thousands of children are STILL crying for their FAMILY!” Protest at West County Detention Facility in Richmond, Calif., June 22, 2018. Photo by Betty Rose Livingston

Speakers called the practice of forcible separation of families “criminal negligence, child abuse and torture.”

Experts at the United Nations Human Rights Council agree. According to The Independent, 11 members of the council released a statement today that said, “Detention of children is punitive, severely hampers their development, and in some cases may amount to torture.”

Many of the speeches were tearful. Others were angry. But a hush came over the crowd as two librarians read from Amy June Bates’ book, “The Big Umbrella,” about an umbrella so large there is room for everyone when it rains.

“No ban, no wall. Human rights for all,” they chanted as the hour long demonstration drew to a close.

Protesters clearly felt a sense of urgency and speakers encouraged those present to attend other actions slated for the week ahead, culminating in the national day of protest on Saturday, June 30.

Protester Courtney Anne Russell speaks at the demonstration in Richmond, Calif. June 22, 2018. “I don’t understand the lack of empathy that comes from people. If it’s not about them, they don’t care about it. That’s probably one of the most frustrating things about this.” Photo by Betty Rose Livingston

Earlier in the week, President Trump signed an executive order to end the separation of children from their parents, but provided no framework for the reunification of the 2,300 families known to have been affected by the practice.

“Never again is now,” Gershberg said.

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