With President-elect Donald Trump promising to deport millions of undocumented immigrants, two separate groups held protest vigils on Sunday outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Detention Center located inside the Suffolk County House of Corrections.
“What he does to immigrants will be the first litmus test of this new regime,” said George Bryant of Cambridge, who was part of a vigil organized by the Boston New Sanctuary Movement. “This is the front line, the first real test of fascism in America.”
About 30 people joined the New Boston Sanctuary Movement vigil; later about 75 protesters with the Lynn-based Essex County Community Organization held a similar gathering.
Both groups clustered on a pedestrian overpass along the Massachusetts Avenue Connector, where they could be seen through windows by many of the detainees inside. One protester held up a sign that read, “Dignity Not Deportation.”
As protesters chanted and sang, “No borders, no nations; stop the deportations,” the inmates banged on the windows and held up homemade signs.
In one window, inmates made homemade letters and taped them to the glass. The letters spelled out “HOME USA.” Below it they added a heart.
On Sunday, Trump told “60 Minutes” he would immediately deport two million to three million undocumented immigrants after his inauguration, beginning with “people that are criminal and have criminal records.”
After he has secured the border with Mexico, the president-elect said, he would “make a determination” on who else may face deportation.
Anna Villa, an immigrant from Mexico who works as a teacher in Boston, said she feels anxious following Trump’s election.
“I have papers, but I feel anxious for my undocumented students,” she said. “Protests like this are heartwarming because we have some mobilization, and to see the prisoners on the inside, to see them moving, to feel their anxiousness, makes it more real. This is about strengthening civil society and pushing back.”
Denise Garcia, one of the organizers of the Boston New Sanctuary Movement, an umbrella organization including about 20 different churches, said the group gathers several times a year outside the prison to protest and read the names of immigrants who have died in ICE custody.
“Approximately 250 immigrants are held here every day in detention, many for simply driving without a license,” Garcia said. “We worry that with Trump, we’re going to see raids, and they’re going to set up stops looking for papers.”
The Essex County Community Organization began its vigil across the street from the main entrance to the prison, but they moved after an official told them that if they held up signs or did anything to communicate with prisoners, he would have them removed by police.
Alexandra Pineros-Shields, the executive director of the Essex County Community Organization, said her organization had spent eight years protesting the immigration policies of the Obama administration, which has deported more than two million undocumented immigrants.
“Trump has pledged to increase that, not decrease that,” she said. “The detainees inside must be very scared right now, and we want to be in solidarity with them. Donald Trump is succeeding in pitting the working class against itself while the wealthy get wealthier.”