My cathartic march to the Dilley detention camp

By guest blogger Marlon Saucedo, who is completing an internship with our Austin staff blogging at Texas Prison Bid'ness

The email said: “Meet on May 2nd. 7:15 a.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church.”

Similar directions had come via email in the fall of 2014 when I joined a protest against the unjust incarceration of refugee women and children in Karnes Detention Center (which was renamed the Karnes County Residential Center). To me, the event served as an introduction to the work of Grassroots Leadership, where I would soon be an intern, as well as an introduction to the significance of an activist making a difference through the simple action of being present for the cause of liberation of immigrants from detention. It also introduced me to the corrupt systems behind for-profit, private prison corporations like the GEO Group, which runs the Karnes facility.

My time protesting at Karnes that day gave me a sense of empowerment. It also reintroduced me to my own motive for participating. My family was torn apart because of our immigrant status a decade ago. My motive in protesting that day, and joining University Leadership Initiative (ULI) at the University of Texas to fight for the rights of undocumented students, is to find redemption after that experience. For these reasons, I was excited to participate in a march aimed at ending family detention that would take part in the stranded roads of Dilley, Texas.

The protest at the “South Texas Family Residential Center” in Dilley on May 2 was different than the one I joined in Karnes City. This action in Dilley was more ambitious, more potent, in need of more support and rightfully so. Run by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), this facility was in the process of becoming the largest immigrant detention center in America, growing to a capacity of 2,400 — two-thirds the population of Dilley, which is only 3,600.

Once I arrived at the park near Dilley City Hall, where people and organizations from all over the nation gathered, I realized the magnitude of the event. Soon after, I joined over 600 people in a march of almost 2 miles in the searing hot sun towards the family detention camp. The diversity was magnificent to see; people of all races, ages, religious affiliations, professions and capacities were united as they sang, played music, held signs, held massive puppets (symbols of the mothers and children locked up in Dilley) and chanted.

“Del Norte al Sur, del Este a Oeste! Ganaremos esta lucha, cueste lo que cueste!”

The group was massive enough to force the closure of Westbound Texas Highway 85 until every single protester had crossed it. That took about one hour.

Not long after we settled in front of the camp, outside of the fence surrounding it, we heard from several speakers who had been inside the detention system.

Among the speakers was Dr. Satsuki Ina, who was born in a Japanese incarceration camp during WWII. Ina made comparisons of the modern day detention to the system of Japanese incarceration in the 1940s.

“I visited some of the families at Karnes and the similarities were stunning to me. One of the things that is very clear; that to remove 120,000 Japanese-Americans there were huge economic gains for large corporate organizations, and the same thing is happening here,” Ina said.

Some of the speakers were actually former detainees at the Karnes family detention camp, like 4-year-old Melany and 6-year-old Luis Miguel who gave their innocent and heart-breaking accounts of their experiences at the prison.

It was Jose Luis Hernandez Cruz of Honduras, who has had multiple amputations, whose story touched me the most. Hernandez had lost his right arm and leg and most of his left hand to a train nicknamed, “La Bestia” in an attempt at coming to the U.S.-Mexico border a few years ago. In his latest attempt to enter the country, he and nine others who had survived amputations were detained at the border. He shared how the officers who detained him had to use painful tactics to attach his arms to the rest of his body because regular handcuffs were useless on him. He was held inside of the immigrant detention center in Pearsall for a month and had been released the week before joining the protest in Dilley.

Before Hernandez left the mic, he sang Ricardo Arjona’s “Mojado,” a song which tells the story of an undocumented immigrant whose simple wish is to improve their quality of life. This moment brought a wave of nostalgia over me.

“Empacó sus ganas de quedarse, su condición de transformarse en el hombre que soñó y no ha logrado.”

The song had been released 10 years ago in 2005, the same year that two of my aunts, my uncle and my cousin had been detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). My cousin, then 22 years old, was an avid fan of Arjona and this song made me reminisce of times with him and the rest of my family. Due to the fear we had of being next to be detained and deported, my relatives, my immediate family and I traveled back to our hometown of Monterrey, halting all of the progress that we had made in the U.S. I was 11 years old. All four of them — my two aunts, my uncle and my cousin — were deported to Mexico after 4 months inside of a detention cell. I vividly remember the frail and thin physical state they were all in when they made their forced return home. They had experienced freezing temperatures and rancid food which detention officers forced onto them. This caused long periods of illness and depression.

“El mojado esta mojado por las lágrimas que brota la nostalgia.

El mojado, el indocumentado

carga el bulto que el legal no cargaría ni obligado.”

My parents, my two sisters and I miraculously found our way back inside of the U.S. that December, the last time we ever saw my relatives left behind in Mexico again. Since then, they have all faced the struggling economic state there as well as the dangerous conditions that overcame Mexico due to the drug cartels, which owe much of their profit to American drug consumers. It is a struggle that makes them value their every moment of their lives and brings them incomparable unity with each other, even as they are separated from my family living in the U.S.

Through events like the march in Dilley, I am reminded of the great fortune I possess to pursue a professional career and a comfortable life. It is an opportunity that was abruptly taken from others in my family. It is an opportunity that all immigrants desperately make attempts to gain, just a mere chance at improving their life experience. It is that definitive “American Dream” that this country once promised. I am determined to capitalize on this opportunity and continue to make efforts in creating awareness to the masses of the broken system that is immigration policy.

“Si la visa universal se extiende, el dia en que nacemos y caduque en la muerte.

¿Porque te persiguen mojado? Si el consul de los cielos ya te dio permiso.”