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About 50 protestors gathered outside the Bristol County Jail and House of Corrections in North Dartmouth, Mass. on the evening of January 23, to raise awareness on the deportation of Southeast Asians and to demand that the Sheriff’s office end its partnership with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
“It’s important for us to stand up, make some noise, and talk about the inhumane practices of ICE and local law enforcement who collaborate with ICE to detain refugees and immigrants and separate families,” said Sarath S. Suong, the lead organizer of the protest and the co-founder of the Providence Youth Student Movement.
The protest is part of the nonprofit law-center Asian Americans Advancing Justice’s launch of national week of action in standing up against Southeast asian deportation, specifically ethnic groups from countries Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King’s memory, the week long rallies and protests took place in 15 U.S. cities from California to Massachusetts. Outside the Bristol County jail, community leaders and residents chanted and held banners and signs to bring attention to the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office partnership with ICE.
“The most problematic thing is it gives power to local law enforcement to act as ICE agents. When you give federal ICE powers, what happens then is that they’re free to act as immigration officers and that creates more fear,” Suong said.
As the protestors grabbed the attention of drivers passing by, cars slowed down and some honked in support. Meanwhile, guards patrolled the traffic to ensure safety. There were about 20 guards securing the premises, monitoring, and standing by.
Jonathan Darling, public information officer for the Bristol County Sheriff’s office, said that the last time the group was on the property, they had chained themselves to cement and wrecked structures. The fire department had to help free the protesters from the chains.
“In order to avoid that situation we have extra security,” Darling said. “All we see right now is people protesting, expressing their right to do that, they’re more than welcome to do that as long as it’s peaceful.”
The Bristol County sheriff’s office partnership with ICE in the federal 287 (g) program has what Darling described as generally overseeing two components: One, to facilitate the operation of the detention center for when ICE delivers and detains deportees, and two, for the county’s officers who’ve gone through ICE training to be able to access and reference the ICE database regarding background checks and immigration statuses. Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson signed up his department for the federal partnership back in January 2017, and since then there’s been community protests.
“We’re not going to close down our ICE operation because of they’re protest. We partner with I-C-E- the same way we partner with state police, the FBI, and every law enforcement agency we work with and ICE is one of them. So we’re going to continue to do that,” Darling said.
Among the speakers at the protest was Kevin Lam of Asian American Resource Workshop based in Boston, talked about their current work with the Vietnamese Anti-Deportation Network. “ICE and DHS, and law enforcement are now terrorizing our communities again and …. part of this is organizing and responding to keep families together,” Lam said to the crowd.
Theory Voeul, of Cambodian descent, spoke to the crowd about her older brother who has been served a deportation notice, but doesn’t know when ICE will come knocking.
Her brother came to the U.S. when he was six months old. At age 18, he committed a crime, in which Voeul said he had already paid his dues. Yet, he’s up for deportation, and was told that his case is pending. In the meantime, he must do his monthly immigration check-ins while carrying on with his life as best he can. It’s been over 15 years and he is now 34 years old with a 6-year-old child and holds a supervisor level job.
“He changed his life around, and he still has that deportation order over his head,” Voeul said. “It’s very difficult to live every day not knowing what his fate will be. It’s not fair for anyone that’s going through this right now, especially for those who have been here all their life and knows nothing other than the U.S. My brother knows nothing about Cambodia, he barely speaks the language.”
Among the protestors were Vanessa Flores and August Guangzhou of the Providence Youth Student Movement, based out of Providence, R.I.
Flores said some of her family members have been deported. “Even without the familial connection, it’s an abuse of human rights going on here,” Flores said. “At this point if you still don’t know why this is a problem, you need to understand it immediately.”
“It hasn’t always been this way, it’s doesn’t have to be this way, and it’s got to go,” Guangzhou said.
For Darling, he suggests that lobbying their congressmen is the better route.
“ICE is just following the law. The laws are the books. The laws are created by congress. ICE and the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office are just simply enforcing those laws,” Darling said. “My suggestion to them is to lobby congress because that’s how you get laws changed.
For Suong, it’s all about showing up for everyone.
“Let the folks know who are living in the community in fear that people are out here fighting for them,” Suong said. “We’re going to keep showing up until we stop deportation for everyone.”