Prisoners throughout New England joined a national rolling hunger strike last week, protesting the United States government’s failure to reunite separated migrant families despite a court ordered July 26 deadline to do so. The hunger strike — formulated by members of Hungry4Justice — started on July 30 in Oakland, California, and has since spread to cities across the country.
Massachusetts entered the fray when the town of Pittsfield began its strike on Sept. 1; Boston joined in soon after. Prisoners in Manchester, N.H. also participated in the hunger strike the same week. Members of Hungry4Justice say the strike will continue nationally through the rest of September, with the dates of numerous participating cities still yet to be announced. The incarcerated strikers are demanding the end of family separation policies, counseling for reunified families experiencing trauma, and held accountability for those who are financially and politically profiting off of immigrant imprisonment.
“We will not sit back and watch babies torn from their mothers and fathers; toddlers placed before judges… children returned to their parents so traumatized they cannot speak,” Hungry4Justice said in a released statement. “As the fast ends in one city, it will pick up in another.”
On Sept. 6, activists gathered at South Bay Detention Facility in Boston to support the striking prisoners and help those affected by the country’s invasive immigration policy. The group had initially planned to congregate in front the ICE detention wing of the facility, but officers prevented them from doing so. Instead, they rallied in front of the prison entrance.
“We’re here to represent, and let [prisoners] know we care,” said Emily Ross of the Immigrant and Refugee Rights Network, who organized the demonstration.
Using chalk to create sidewalk messages, attendees reached out to the prisoners within. The street and sidewalk became a canvas for messages like, “We See You” and “We [Love] You Dad.” The prisoners returned the favor; some used toothpaste to write messages on their windows, denouncing ICE and immigration policy. One prisoner used their clothing to construct a smiling face.
Ross and others attending also brought voter registration forms for visiting families, and wrote letters of solidarity for prisoners in several languages for the Boston Immigrant Justice Accompaniment Network to send into the facility.
“The folks inside who saw us were happy we were there and we wrote about 30 letters to detainees between us,” said Ross.