More than two dozen people rallied Sunday night outside South Bay House of Correction in Boston, calling for improved living conditions for immigration detainees being held there.
The group was made up of family and friends of detainees as well as advocates. Protesters said detainees have become sick due to unsanitary eating and living conditions and poor medical care. Detainees have also been denied access to computers reserved for legal use, and many have had visitation rights limited or taken away without cause, detainee advocates said.
“They have been putting up with some really despicable health and safety conditions,” said Dominic DeSiata, 31, a member of Resist the Raids, a statewide advocacy network that is critical of immigration enforcement and helped organize Sunday’s protest.
Conditions at South Bay prompted the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts to write a letter to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement outlining the issues reported by detainees and urging the federal agency to rectify the situation, according to Laura Rotolo, an ACLU attorney.
Similar concerns, she said, were reported in a 2008 ACLU study of detention facilities nationally.
“It concerns us that not much has changed,” Rotolo said. She said immigration officials responded to the recent letter and said they were investigating.
To push back against their living conditions, detainees have held their own protests, she said. For the past 10 days, dozens have refused to eat for two- to three-day stretches, she said.
Peter Van Delft, a spokesman for the Suffolk County sheriff’s office, which oversees the House of Correction, referred all questions to immigration officials. Officials at the federal agency could not be reached for comment Sunday night.
Clayton Richard Gordon, 38 and a native of Jamaica, has been detained at South Bay for several weeks, said his fiancee. He was moved here from a facility in Greenfield while he appeals a federal deportation order.
“The conditions really need to change,” said Kimberly Wierzchowski, 28, of Connecticut.
She said Gordon has told her there are bug infestations, that detainees have gotten stomach ulcers, and have contracted infections because food trays and utensils are not properly cleaned. Some have bacterial foot infections because showers are not properly cleaned, according to Wierzchowski and other protestors.
Wierzchowski said her fiance complained and, for doing so, has been in solitary confinement for the past six days.
“The conditions are horrible and they won’t give us answers,” she said.
Standing on a pedestrian ramp on the Massachusetts Avenue Connector on Sunday, protesters waved and took photos of detainees who peered through prison windows. Some detainees wrote messages on pieces of paper and held them to the window. One read: “7yr in ICE.”
The protestors pumped their fists in the air as they chanted, some using a megaphone.
In unison, they yelled: “What’s the call? Free them all,” and “Power to the people. No one is illegal.” Cars whizzing by occasionally honked in support.
Ingrid Rivas, 21, a native of El Salvador who lives in Everett, said her fiance, Cilas Alexander Galo, 27, a Honduras native, has been detained since August.
“He’s told me it’s really tough, and that he wants to be out here to support us,” said Rivas, referring to herself and their daughters, ages 1 and 2, who stood next to her.
She said the situation is difficult for her, too, financially and emotionally. But she could not hold back a smile Sunday night.
Rivas could see Galo through a window, and she held his gaze, waving and smiling.
“Seeing him, even from this far away, it feels good,” she said.
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