Texas Groups Mark International Human Rights Day with Vigil in Waco Spotlighting Immigration Detention System

December 10, 2011

Waco, Texas - On Saturday, December 10, 2011, at 2pm community organizations will hold a vigil in Waco for detained immigrants in honor of International Human Rights Day. The vigil will begin at 2pm at Heritage Park at Third and Austin and will highlight the more than 10,000 immigrant detention beds in Texas.

Until last week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement was detaining immigrant women at the Jack Harwell Detention Center in Waco, a private jail operated by Community Education Centers, a for-profit private prison corporation. 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-existant access to attorneys.

On Monday, advocacy groups were told that ICE has transferred women from Jack Harwell to other privately operated detention centers in Taylor and Laredo. “While we believe that it is a victory that ICE has moved women from the Jack Harwell facility, much more needs to be done,” said Bob Libal of Grassroots Leadership. “We must end for-profit detention as a feature of our immigration system.”

According to data compiled by the Detention Watch Network, private prison corporations spend millions of dollars annually lobbying state and federal legislators. Nearly half of all immigrant detention beds are operated by for-profit corporations.

“Private prison corporations have lobbied for the very legislation that leads to the incarceration of undocumented immigrants,” said José Magaña of the Waco DREAM Act Alliance. “Profiting from detention is not only inhumane and unfair, but borders on legalized slavery.”

Waco resident and Baylor student Hope Mustakim will speak also at the vigil. Mustakim’s husband Nazry, a permanent legal resident detained under 1996’s mandatory detention laws, has been detained since March at a private detention center in South Texas.

“I know first-hand the suffering of those in detention and their families,” said Hope Mustakim. “Naz and I were only married for 8 months before he was taken away from me. Now I only see him twice a month through the pane glass at the detention center, which is a 260 mile drive from my home. The emotional and financial cost of our separation has been devastating, and it saddens me to know that this is happening to other families caught up in the detention system across the country.”

Members of the faith community will also join community members in the vigil.

“It’s extremely difficult to ‘love thy neighbor’ when ‘thy neighbor’ is locked up for immigrating and imprisoned under subhuman conditions,” said Bart Smith, a member of Texans United for Families and a student at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. “People of faith and others of good will are accountable for the treatment of the vulnerable in our midst. I can think of few more vulnerable positions than the fear, isolation, and cruelty experienced by detained persons and their loved ones.”

Speakers will include members of the Waco Dream Act Alliance, Hope Fellowship Church, Texans United for Families, Grassroots Leadership, and those affected by the immigrant detention system.