Immigration issues have been at the forefront of our national dialogue this summer. Family separations at the border, calls for the abolition of the U.S. Immigration Custody and Enforcement (ICE) agency, and simultaneous calls for funding a full border wall have ensured immigration remains a contentious topic.

Over the past few months, the #WyoSayNo campaign has been partnering with organizations around Wyoming to bring families together for celebrations called “Fiestas de Familias.” These gatherings have been intentionally planned as celebrations first and foremost, because while as a national political issue immigration may be contentious, in Wyoming, it is the reality of how our communities thrive.

From the start, the #WyoSayNo campaign has been about more than just saying no to the proposed immigration prison in Uinta County. We are also driving home the importance of every single person living in our rural communities, documented or undocumented. We are lifting up the importance of keeping families together, not just at the border but in our state as well. We are saying yes to keeping families both together and free.

And we are bringing attention to the fact that the longer our state goes without seriously investing in local economic development, the more susceptible our local governments are to the promise of jobs – no matter how wildly misrepresented. The Uinta County Commission may consider it their role to look for economic development for the county’s residents. But when the only company willing to come is a private prison profiteer, we have to start asking serious questions about our statewide economic development initiatives and if they are truly reaching everyone.

By organizing the #WyoSayNo campaign and hosting the Fiestas de Familias, we hope to rise above the national argument over immigration and focus on Wyoming. We live in a state where indigenous people are still dealing with the trauma of this state’s first immigrants and the separation of their families in the recent past. We live in a state where all our major industries, from tourism to agriculture to the oil fields, are dependent on the labor of modern-day immigrants. And we live in a state where all these issues are inseparable.

To talk about family separations, we must talk about the separated indigenous families and the families being separated by ICE all around our state. To talk about economic development we must talk about who is bearing the burden of that development and who is making the profit. To talk about our rural communities needing all of us, we need to acknowledge there are undocumented people living here, and that the pragmatic, Wyoming way of dealing with this is to accept this reality and do right by everyone who is here – regardless of documentation status.

For the #WyoSayNo campaign, this means stopping the proposed immigration prison in Uinta County because it won’t serve Wyoming’s rural communities, families, or the long-term economic development so badly needed in the forgotten corners of our state. And it means celebrating what we do have, being grateful for it, and asking for the very best for our future – and that means investing in families, not in private prisons.

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