In Waco, a group of activists from around the state gathered to hold a vigil in honor of International Human Rights Day. Those gathered said they were there to shed light on “the devastating impact of detention and deportation on immigrants and their families,” as well as protest the for-profit private prison system that houses many of the detained undocumented immigrants.
According to a press release by Grassroots Leadership, which works with community, labor, faith, and campus organizations throughout the South and Southwest, the vigil took place in Waco to raise awareness of the Jack Harwell Detention Center in Waco, a private jail operated by Community Education Centers, a for-profit private prison corporation.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained immigrant women at the Jack Harwell Detention Center until ICE transferring the women from Jack Harwell to other privately operated detention centers in Taylor and Laredo. The press release stated that “reports from inside the facility included complaints of lack of access to medical care, including for pregnant women, spoiled food, no contact visits, and virtually non-existent access to attorneys.”
Bob Libal of Grassroots Leadership told the Texas Independent that they “chose to honor International Human Rights Day by raising awareness about the devastating impact of detention and deportation on immigrants and their families,” said Libal. “Texas has more than 10,000 immigrant detention beds, more than any other state, so we felt the need to do this vigil here in Texas.”
The central message of the vigil according to Libal “was that we must end the mass detention and deportation of immigrants in the U.S.,” said Libal. He said speakers highlighted the “impact that private prison corporations have on immigration detention, human rights violations including sexual assault that are common in detention, and the devastating impact.”
As the overall prison population has grown in the United States, so has the number of people housed in private prisons. According to the Justice Policy Institute’s analysis of federal statistics, the number of people in privately-run prisons has increased by 353.7 percent since 1996. A significant portion of the private prison population is undocumented immigrants who are being detained, while their cases move through the immigration system.
The event brought together members of the faith community, immigrant and civil rights organizers, and those directly affected by detention and deportation. José Magaña of the Waco DREAM Act Alliance told the Texas Independent that his organization became involved with the event because of the “interaction between undocumented immigrants and the private prison industry, as well as other vulnerable populations.”
“Profiting from detention is “not only inhumane and unfair, but borders on legalized slavery,” said Magaña. “Private prisons are inherently a flawed idea, both morally and practically.” Magaña went on to say that the industry has lobbied for harsher immigration laws in the states in order to increase the number of detainees at private prisons. He specifically highlighted the infamous Arizona law SB1070 and the involvement of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
The American Independent has reported on the egregious examples of prison abuse, in part because no federally-mandated minimal level of oversight exists. National Public Radio also reported on the role that ALEC, the private prison industry, and campaign donations played in creating SB1070.
“For-profit prison corporations have long records of abuse and mismanagement,” said Libal. “Furthermore, ICE relies on private prisons so heavily that the agency is really beholden to these companies. These companies have no interest in doing what’s best of the detainees or for the community, but have a vested interest in filling their beds.”
“For-profit prison corporations do not have community safety or best practices in mind, but are solely driven by the need to make a profit,” said Libal. “And the way they make a profit is to incarcerate more people in their facilities. That is a backwards system of justice that incentivizes incarcerating more people for the profit of corporations.”
Below are photos of the vigil attended by an estimated 40 to 50 protesters on December 10 at Heritage Square at Third and Austin in Waco:
Waco resident and Baylor student Hope Mustakim speaks at the vigil.
Bob Libal of Grassroots Leadership participates in vigil.
Activists protest private prisons during a vigil in Waco, Texas.