By Cris Batista | Jan 17, 2022

Latinxs in Philadelphia are Speaking Out: Stop Criminalizing Us

In the last 10 years the Latinx community in Philadelphia has grown by 27%, and has nearly tripled since 2000. Today, many are fighting to get ICE out of their schools and state.  

Criminalization of Latinxs has only grown over the years as Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) is given more power to target, detain, and deport our gente with a budget larger than that of all other federal law enforcement agencies combined. ICE has strengthened their use of technology and grown their collaborative efforts with local police. The result has been increased surveillance and harm inflicted upon immigrant communities.

Latinxs in Philly have felt the impact in their daily lives. It’s why our compas at Juntos, a community-led, Latinx immigrant organization in South Philadelphia, decided to take on the fight against the criminalization of our gente. The majority of the people who are part of their base — an active group of leaders who take action with them and are developed — have been harmed by ICE.

Building alongside the community, they released a report to expose the horrific conditions of the York County Detention Center and were part of the coalition that successfully advocated for its closure this year. Notably, when York County Prison, the largest immigrant detention facility in PA ended its contract with ICE, Juntos led a coalition of community based groups and legal service providers to fight for release, not transfer of detainees.Through their work, over a hundred people were released to their homes and families.

Unfortunately, just months later the Clearfield County Board of Commissioners in PA approved the opening of a new ICE detention center in Moshannon Valley with the capacity to detain up to 1900 individuals, double the capacity of the York County Detention Center.  The contract is with ICE and the private corporation Geo Group.

The Geo Group is the same corporation that exploited thousands of workers detained in their facility in Washington, the Northwest Ice Processing center, and was exposed with the help of our compas at La Resistencia. The GEO Group owes $17 million dollars in back pay to the immigrants who, when detained at their facility, were paid a single $1 a day to perform all kinds of tasks to upkeep the facility: preparing meals, cleaning toilets, washing floors. Immigrants who had the right to be paid $13.69 an hour, which is Washington state’s minimum wage. You can learn more about La Resistencia’s win here.

Juntos is part of the effort set on stopping the opening of the new detention center. They remain committed to their long-term vision of banning all detention centers in the state, an accomplishment realized by organizers in New York and New Jersey. The reality of detention centers is dark and signals a threat to immigrant communities. As Erika Guadalupe Nuñez shared after hearing the news, “if you build a new detention center with a capacity of 1900, ICE will find a way to fill it.” The campaign against the Moshannon Valley  Detention Center is still unfolding.

The harm ICE imposes upon communities doesn’t stop at detention centers. Right before the pandemic hit, a pregnant immigrant mom was detained in front of an elementary school after she dropped off her child. It won’t be the last family torn apart. The events that unfolded were never acknowledged by the school. The School District Philadelphia had no policy on school or administrators interactions with ICE, nor did they create one after the incident. It was as if everyone forgot about it.

The community members of Juntos did not. It’s why they launched their Sanctuary Schools, a community- led campaign demanding schools be a place of learning, not criminalization. The campaign is built upon five core principles:

1. Schools free of criminalization
2. Reinvestment in education
3. Culturally responsive pedagogy
4. Community control of schools
5. Restorative learning environments

The City of Philadelphia Public Schools currently spend $31 million a year on ensuring that schools are policed; the youth and parents  involved in the campaign want that money spent on additional support for students and their families instead. We couldn’t agree more.

In early June, the Philadelphia School Board unanimously voted to pass the Welcoming Sanctuary Schools resolution, which was introduced by Juntos. The fight now has become it’s implementation and extending these transformative protections beyond more than just protection from ICE. Schools administrations are demonstrating a hesitancy to take meaningful action. Juntos remains committed and so are we. To stay up to date on the latest developments of their work follow them on social media.

Follow them on Facebook: here

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