Immigration issues have been at the forefront of our national dialogue for the past several months. 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.
During that time, the #WyoSayNo campaign has been partnering with organizations throughout the state, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Wyoming, to push back against the proposed immigration prison in Uinta County and to lift up the importance of keeping families together – not just at the border, but in Wyoming as well.
One year after the Department of Homeland Security issued a request for information (RFI) regarding potential locations for a new immigration prison, the coalition still says no and is still working to inform communities and elected leaders about the negative impact the immigration prison would have on Wyoming and its families.
“As we spoke to the LatinX community in Evanston, we learned the devastating and false reality that some of these men and women have come to terms with in regards of the proposed prison by believing it would keep their families closer to them. This belief is rooted from the fact that many detainees are often taken to a detention center in Aurora, Colo., leaving families scavenging for ways to make their way across the state to reach their loved ones,” said Ana Castro, vice chair of Juntos. “As a Mexican woman, I have always been taught to keep my head down, accept the terms that are giving to us, no questions asked. Not anymore! We will no longer conform to the idea that MTC’s private prison will keep our families closer, as it will not. MTC and its broken promises are not welcomed here, and Juntos along the #WyoSayNo campaign are here to let them know we will keep fighting alongside Wyoming communities to keep Wyoming free of private immigration prisons. Mi gente, aqui estamos y no nos vamos!”
In January, #WyoSayNo hosted a live event in Cheyenne to inform the public about what was happening and the negative effects it will have on our communities. At the same time, citizens of Evanston joined together at the proposed site to protest construction. This event was streamed live to watch parties all over the state.
“Our campaign launch started a 10-month effort to bring people in Wyoming together to fight for our families and communities,” said Sabrina King, ACLU of Wyoming Policy Director. “We have done that. We have already won, and we will cement our victory when MTC pulls their bid, when private prisons no longer profit off human lives, and when families no longer fear they will he ripped apart.”
One of the most powerful actions this year took place on Good Friday, faith leaders and organizers came together to hold a prayer vigil outside the ICE office in Cheyenne. After the prayer vigil, a march was led by Wyoming DACA recipients who carried crosses on their shoulders from the ICE office in Cheyenne all the way to the governor’s office.
“I strongly believe that as people of faith, we know that our blessings carry responsibilities – that in our voices we can seek to express prophetic witness by influencing moral values and public policy,” said Sandra Loza, a Wyoming DACA receipt and activist. “Carrying a cross is a difficult thing, but today many carry their own crosses. As immigrants, many of us carry the cross of being undocumented, being detained, or being separated from our families. That day and every day, I am reminded and grateful for all the Simons who take it upon themselves to help the suffering, that help me, and others carry our crosses. Yet I am also aware there are others who either don’t or won’t carry a cross, because it is too much.”
Through the summer, #WyoSayNo held events in Casper, Powell, Cody, Gillette, Riverton, Laramie, Cheyenne, Jackson and Evanston.
“The United States was born out of being a nation of immigrants and prospering as a result. I am outraged that immigrants today are unjustly being placed in prisons, forced to return to dangerous situations and separated from their children out of a misplaced fear and prejudice that does not represent who we are, either as Christians or as Americans,” said Chesie Lee, a #WyoSayNo supporter in Riverton. “Welcoming the stranger does not mean locking them up. That is why I protest the proposed immigrant prison for Evanston. I want Wyoming to say, ‘No, not here.’ Wyoming allowed a Japanese internment camp In Wyoming during World War II, perhaps without any meaningful opportunity to stop it. But today we do have the opportunity to stop such a facility for immigrants in Wyoming. I hope others will join me to prevent an immigration prison being built here.”
These events brought the community together to celebrate our families. The final event in Evanston was the largest event with close to 100 people attending.
“Uinta County is a small peaceful town. Everyone knows one another, this detention center has become such a negative cloud that has affected many off us,” said Lubia Olivas with Uinta County Say No. “We have hard-working people that live here. Just because they don’t have legal documentation does not mean they don’t deserve to be here. This prison brings fear and many people from our community will be forced out and have to relocate elsewhere. It makes me sad that our county commissioners and mayor think this is the only way to bring jobs to our community. … We will continue the fight against this prison. I just hope people understand how this will affect everyone, not just in Evanston, but everyone one in Wyoming.”
This event gave members of the community an opportunity to raise their voices like Uinta County resident Alfredo Parra who stepped up and asked to speak. Parra said he wanted to tell the local Latino community to show up and speak out, even if they’re afraid. “Even if you’re scared, be here,” he said, adding that it’s important for Latinos to “show the community how valuable Latinos are” to multiple local businesses and organizations.
It has been a busy year for the #WyoSayNo coaltion. Yet they remain energized for the fight ahead.
“This campaign is fueled by Wyoming people who care – people whose hard work ensures we are able to be here to work and advocate on behalf of the immigrants who call Wyoming home, said Antonio Serrano, lead organizer for the #WyoSayNo and the ACLU of Wyoming. “They are looking for us. They are putting us in cages to make a profit, they are breaking our families apart and they are stealing our children. There is no doubt we are living in a difficult time, but we are not broken and we are not conquered. We will make it out the other side stronger and more unified. It’s in our blood to fight back against those who oppress us and like those who came before us we will raise our voices for our people and we will fight for our people. Recuerda a mi gente, no estás solo!”