Hidden Out of Sight But Not Forgotten

As I drew near the South Bay House of Correction, I reflected on how this building of oppression is often missed by our community members and that relatively few people know that immigrants and legal permanent residents (LPRs) are held here in detention without due process. Even though I have been to several vigils and now organize them, I am still struck by this.

Yet, it is designed to be missed, and go unnoticed. The building is tucked away by the ramp to I-93, and its nondescript facade blends into the industrial area. The Boston Medical Center is across the way, within eyesight though. Still, South Bay is not meant to be seen. The people within its walls are meant to be forgotten. The Boston New Sanctuary Movement has not forgotten though. We organize vigils four times per year to help garner attention for the the plight of those immigrants detained, jailed, and locked away here locally.

On the Sunday before the marathon, approximately 40 people of faith gathered in prayer and reflection of this unjust immigration system and to let those who are detained at South Bay know they are not forgotten. That there are people on the outside thinking of them, of their families, of their isolation and pain. In this small gesture, we try to bring hope.

After gathering on the corner of Bradston Street, songs and words of prayer are offered. Then we read off the names of all those who have died in detention across the country, including one person at South Bay (1), and then we march. This time though the gate we normally walk through is locked with a bright, fluorescent orange chain and padlock. We shall not be deterred. We march down Bradston Street, around the fence, down the sidewalk of the Mass Ave Connector, alongside of the jail, cross the street to a stairwell leading up to another sidewalk on the bridge. All this so we may view immigrants inside the jail. So they know we are there for them. Something is off today though. One floor is dark, there are no people at the windows of the fourth floor, only detainees with their fluorescent yellow ICE shirts are visible on the third floor. Where are the immigrants and LPRs that are normally there? Does this mean they are in isolation? Have they been transferred, or have they been released? How long have those cells on the fourth floor been empty?(2)

We wave to those on the third floor, continue to sing and chant; crying out for justice, for peace, for the lives of our siblings in spirit. We gesture to one another, signs of peace, forming hearts with our hands, and trying to let them know we care. More prayers are shared, more songs, and we pause in a moment of silence to reflect on those out of sight and for those who are no longer on the fourth floor. Eventually, it is time to go. We can return home. Our new acquaintances cannot. But we shall return.

Why do I keep returning? My faith calls me to do this work. I believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person. I believe in justice and compassion. I believe we are all connected in an interdependent web and for every policy or action the U.S. takes in another country, it may influence people to migrate here. If our country’s actions are in part the cause of one’s migration, then why are we holding fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters — children of God — in a cell without an opportunity to fight their case? The answers seem to lie in economics and the same industry that incarcerates Black and Brown people en masse. Immigrants’ lives are now for sale too. And we are called to bear witness, and to fight back alongside those families whose lives are affected.

Denise A. Garcia is a Unitarian Universalist and a Steering Committee Member of Boston New Sanctuary Movement. She holds a Bachelor of Journalism in Advertising from The University of Nebraska in Lincoln, and a Master of Arts in Intercultural Relations from Lesley University. She currently lives with her spouse and 10 month old daughter in Chelsea, MA. Learn more at about.me/denisealexia.

(1) Pedro Tavarez, a Providence, RI shuttle driver who was being held for deportation to the Dominican Republic, died Oct. 19, 2010.

(2) Volunteers who make pastoral visits with the immigrants at South Bay through Refugee Immigration Ministry have discovered that the fourth floor has been closed for renovation, and the men shifted to other floors or other facilities.

Photos from April 19 vigil

April 19 vigil at the Suffolk County House of Correction

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