In early February, ICE arrested and detained 21 Savage, less than a month before he was scheduled to perform at the O’Connell Center. Like many students who woke up early and stood in line for hours to get my ticket, I was angry at ICE’s decision to detain the rapper.
On social media, students and fans expressed frustration in different ways. Some rightfully pointed out that under the Trump administration, ICE was attempting to make 21 a scapegoat for illegal immigration. Most of the outrage could be found on the Facebook page “Swampy UF Memes for Top Ten Public Teens.” One of the memes posted to the page depicted stock images of white people. In the first panel, a smiling group is giving a collective thumbs up under the words “white people when young children are dying in ICE detention centers.” In the second, they’re screaming under the words “white people when their 21 savage concert gets canceled because of ICE.”
This meme was hilarious and right, but we need to take our anger a step further. 21 is just one of the thousands of migrants who have been detained by ICE. As rapper Offset pointed out on Twitter, “All the memes and shit ain’t funny when somebody going through some … successful black man they always try some way to bring us down.”
Behind 21’s story is that of other undocumented migrants whose stories are never heard. The rapper was held on lockdown for 23 hours a day — with no outside communication besides a daily 10-minute phone call — at the Irwin County Detention Center, “one of the worst immigration detention centers” in the U.S. located in Georgia. According to reports from detainees, solitary confinement is common occurrence at the facility, and officials often ignore reports of sexual abuse. Furthermore, while 21 was only released from custody after posting bond, that’s a luxury many migrants can’t afford.
Across the country, eight deaths occurred as a result of substandard care in ICE custody from December 2015 to April 2017, according to a Human Rights Watch report. ICE has also separated children from their parents at the border and prevented pregnant women in custody from receiving abortions. Individuals have reported being sexually and physically assaulted by guards at the detention centers.
The federal government has also enacted policies that help ICE target immigrant communities, particularly in Florida. Secure Communities is a deportation program used by ICE to collect and maintain biometric data on anyone who is arrested in order to identify undocumented immigrants. The program was passed under Bush in 2008 and expanded by Obama in 2011 only to be discontinued by the Secretary of Homeland Security three years later. But Trump restarted Secure Communities via executive order in 2017, forcing communities across the country to again spend millions on the program. For example, Miami Dade County spent more than $1.1 million in jailing detainees under the program in 2009-2011.
The past year has shown there’s as much work to be done to make this city safe for immigrants as anywhere else.
Other programs such as Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA), which increased penalties for undocumented immigrants and laid the groundwork for mass deportations, and the Criminal Alien Program (CAP), which gives ICE access to state and local jails, are in full effect in Florida.
We’d like to think Gainesville is more sympathetic to the plight of undocumented immigrants than other cities because we became the first “welcoming city” in Florida in 2016. But the past year has shown there’s just as much work to be done to make this city safe for immigrants as anywhere else. In April 2018, a Guatemalan woman called the Gainesville Police Department to report that her boyfriend had kicked and hit her to prevent her from leaving their apartment. After GPD officers searched the apartment and discovered that the woman and nine others living at the apartment were undocumented, the officers reported them to ICE. In late February, the week 21 Savage was scheduled to play, ICE arrested six undocumented workers at a local nursery.
While Mayor Lauren Poe and other city officials have written Facebook posts and made comments to the press pledging to fix city policies, the city commission has taken no action to change them. This means we need to take matters into our own hands by pressuring the city to follow through on its word and reaching out to local organizations that are already working against ICE.
Gainesville’s Interfaith Alliance for Immigrant Justice is a network of local religious communities, student groups, organizations and leaders who are working toward a solution to the immigration crisis. The Interfaith Alliance provides a bridge connecting local religious communities with the U.S. immigrant justice movement. They meet the second Monday of every month at 6 p.m. at the Mennonite meeting house at 1236 NW 18th Ave.
The Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC) is a statewide coalition of over 65 member organizations, of which Gainesville’s Interfaith Alliance is a part of. The FLIC works for the fair treatment of all people, including immigrants. More specifically, their mission is “to amplify the power of immigrant communities to impact the root causes of inequality, defending and protecting basic human rights, including the right to live without fear.” FLIC actively opposed the Secure Communities program in 2008. They call for a roadmap to citizenship that keeps families secure and protects the rights of all workers.
Chispas is the only student-led organization on campus fighting for immigrant rights. The organization has partnered with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers each year for its Boot the Braids Campaign, an effort to kick Wendy’s off college campuses across the country for its refusal to implement policies that would make it safer to be a farmworker and raise wages.
Madres Sin Fronteras (Mother’s Without Borders) is another Gainesville-based organization that believes migration is a human right for all. To support the group you can email them at email@example.com. They aim “to create policy at the local level to protect our community from any and all anti-immigrant actions and to prevent deportations through the creation of deep and lasting solidarity.” •