Police arrested seven student activists yesterday afternoon at the Broward Transitional Center (BTC), after they blocked the entrance of the detention center. The seven were part of a demonstration of about 70 people who are urging President Obama to help alleviate the fears of many undocumented people who fear deportation.
The demonstration, which began at 10:30 a.m., was overall peaceful and was put together by several organizations supporting marginalized students and their families. Among the organizations were the Florida Immigrant Coalition (FIC), Students Working for Equal Rights (SWER), United Families, Dreamer Moms, United We Dream: Tampa Bay, Homestead's Equal Rights for All, and Haitian Women of Miami.
The demonstration pushed civil boundaries as emotions surged -- the group got louder and louder, prompting more than a dozen police to monitor them. To some witnesses, the scene began to unravel about 2:30 p.m., when it began to look like a war zone and police arrested Diego Ramirez, 18, Raymond Mendoza, 21, Maria Palacios 19, Timothy Eakens, 36, Yadira Dumet, 26, Nestor Ruiz, 21, and Sheridan Lagunas, 20.
"They were arrested for civil disobedience after they blocked the entrance so no one could go in or out," said Mariana Martinez, 22, who was one of the protesters. "They were trying to stop to the deportation of undocumented people for the day because families are being separated every day."
The seven, as well as many other of the students rights' activists who came out to the protest, believe that if politicians expanded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), many parents would be able to obtain work permits, social security, and the ability to drive their families around town without being afraid of being stopped.
"There were many emotions going around at the demonstration," said Martinez. "Some people were crying because it's hard to see people that you know and have worked with being arrested. There were other people who were just happy to be able to do something about informing the community. We really want to let Obama know that he can do something for our families. He has the power to expand DACA to our parents."
After police arrested the seven protesters, many of the other activists followed instructions to demonstrate on the sidewalk, where they cried together in the heat. "I am somebody, and I deserve full equality -- right here, right now!" they chanted.
According to the FIC, one of the main reasons 1,100 people are deported every day across the nation is that many politicians oppose immigration reform. The activists also believe that Obama, who helped put DACA into effect, is not doing much now in regard to the separation of families.
"The inaction of Congress, the inaction of our president -- we're fighting for our families," said Elizabeth Taveras, a communications associate for the FIC. "Some of the seven dreamers who were arrested yesterday were directly affected by deportation. These kids are here without their parents. Imagine your family comes to a place they don't know, the children can stay alone but the parents have to go. People were breaking down at the demonstration, thinking about their moms and dads -- it was really intense."
To many people supporting equality at the demonstration, the arrests were a solemn ritual on the pathway to justice. "My experience yesterday seeing my friends get arrested was heartbreaking," said Aldo Martinez, 24. "You would think that you would get used to it, but then again you don't. It's a brand-new experience every single time. I tried not to cry; however, I was not successful in doing so -- to see the faces of sacrifice being chained against the detention center, just to call out those in authority and the community overall."
The immigration activists are outraged because the transitional center is operated by the GEO Group, one of the largest private prison corporations in the world. The BTC houses people who have committed minor offenses and those who have no criminal history but are undocumented. Many of these people are detained for weeks and months, and this has further frustrated their family and friends on the outside who are seeking for their immediate release. The activists don't want their tax dollars going to fund the "bright pink" facility, which they believe makes revenue the longer people stay locked up, like a grim hotel -- per person, per room, per night.
"I am so proud of the protesters," said Aldo. "I guess that people overall have forgotten the human side of these problems and rather choose to make profit, focusing on the money alone."
Earlier this morning, the seven arrested activists were released on bond.
"I felt the power of my community in me!" said Nestor Ruiz, one of the seven arrested. "I knew there was the possibility of arrest, but I knew I had to do it. I risked arrest for my mom and everyone at risk of deportation. My dad was deported in 2006 and went through the BTC. My message is to President Obama: We need immediate relief, and we need it now. Let our people go! Until we see justice, we can't and won't stop!"