‘Here today to say no more’

Published 2:20 pm Thursday, July 5, 2018

Participants from the Heart of Virginia and through Virginia-based organizations first gathered at Wilck’s Lake Island for a presentation, then held a march up and down Main Street to protest against the Farmville Detention Center and similar Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) offices throughout the commonwealth.

While many of the participants from Sunday’s event were from outside the region, members of the Heart of Virginia, including representatives of the Prince Edward County Democratic Committee and the Charlotte County Democratic Committee were present and participated in the march.

Event Organizer Emily Patton, with activist organization March Forward Virginia, said the group did not want to meet at the facility itself to respect families who are visiting loved ones in the facility.

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She also said the town provided this venue as an option and did not present one closer to the main street area itself.

Patton asked people who have been activists since the 1960s, 70s, 80s, 90s, after 9/11 and after the 2016 election to stand. People applauded.

Protests throughout the United States have developed following an announcement from Attorney General of the United States Jeff Sessions that would allow children to be separated from their parents crossing the Southwest border, among other enforcement measures for illegal immigration. Concerns about ICE facilities persisted following the executive order that reversed the separation of families.

ICE is one of three departments in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The DHS and ICE were created in response to the attacks that took place Sept. 11, 2001.

The goal of Sunday’s protest and similar protests throughout the country is to seek alternatives to ICE, including immigration courts, and to abolish ICE altogether, citing that for-profit entities should not house or profit off of immigrants. This was an issue participants had with the Farmville Detention Center.

Town Manager Gerald Spates confirmed in an earlier interview that the Town of Farmville receives $1 a day for each person detained at the facility and receives a tax base. Spates said he did not know the exact amount but said the amount can be substantial.

The town confirmed that only men are currently held at the facility. There are no women or children.

Spates said the facility has the capacity for 650 people but that the exact amount of people in the facility fluctuates from day to day.

The $21-million facility was built in 2010.

The registered agent of Immigration Centers of America-Farmville LLC is Russell Harper, managing member of Harper Associates, LLC based in Richmond.

The town’s adopted 2018-2019 budget, available on the town website, cites the total revenue from the ICA in a per diem format (meaning the town would receive funds by the day, dependent on the number of people currently detained) coming to $275,000.

“This is absolutely shameful,” Patton said about the center. “Those who are most vulnerable and at risk. Let me be clear. Seeking asylum is not illegal. We know this.”

“We are here today to say, ‘no more,’” Patton said. “No more will we allow families to be separated. No more will we allow incarceration of our immigrant communities who are fleeing extreme violence, poverty and are just seeking a better life.”

Another concern about recent ICE policies is arresting or detaining immigrants for seeking asylum. Seeking asylum, according to the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services website, is available to participants who meet the criteria for a refugee, which is defined on the website as people “who have been persecuted or fear they will be persecuted on account of race, religion, nationality, and/or membership in a particular social group or political opinion.”

Asylum is available to immigrants whether they enter legally or illegally, according to a report from PBS Newshour June 1.

The Rev. Amanda Hayes-Bowman, a minister and chaplain in the Town of Farmville, said she had the opportunity to see the facility with other area ministers and said she was concerned about the facility’s stance toward religion and converting people in the facility to Christianity, which she said is not beneficial for people in the facility who are in a vulnerable situation and could be manipulated.

She said following the meeting, she wanted to find a way to be involved.

“There are people in Farmville who are working long-term for this,” Hayes-Bowman said. “I want to apologize for everything that is being done in the name of the church. That is not the gospel that I know, and Jesus was an asylum seeker. Goodness, what if he had been turned away when he went to Egypt? He would have been killed. And it’s just horrible to think that people are in that situation.”

Participants from the event read stories from immigrant families who had been separated from their children and parents.

Taikein Cooper, chair of the Prince Edward County Democratic Committee, spoke during the event and said that the United States has historically taken actions that harm people of color, a point made by other speakers as well, such as slavery and colonization of Native American people. 

Specifically mentioning Prince Edward County, he spoke about freed slaves, Israel Hill on the Appomattox, in the early 1800s. He also spoke about the efforts of students and community members to create education equality at the Robert Russa Moton High School in 1951 with the walkout led by Barbara Rose Johns, then to reopen public schools following their closure by the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors from 1959 to 1964.

“We are indeed in a special place,” Cooper said.

“We have to fight,” Cooper said. He said that he contacted community members about speaking during the event, but they told him they would be in church. “No matter who your higher power is, I encourage you that they wouldn’t be in church right now if this was happening wherever they were.”

He encouraged people to close their eyes and imagine what it would be like to families seeking a better life to be turned away, or imprisoned.

Edgar Lara with Sin Barreras in Charlottesville, an organization that works with the Hispanic community, spoke about the challenges immigrants face in the United States. He became emotional while participants read stories of people affected by parent-child separation.

“There’s something very wrong with the system that would treat our families like criminals,” Lara, a Marine Corps veteran, said. “There’s so much more to this community than people realize. We’re a part of this country, and have been since the beginning.”

He said his grandfather had been part of the Bracero Program, which allowed Mexican employees to work in agriculture during World War II. Lara said after the war, when employees’ services were not needed, his grandfather had to leave the United States.

“We have to do everything in our power to change and do better,” Lara said. “Our undocumented neighbors deserve to be treated with the same dignity, respect and protection as everyone else, regardless of status.”

He said while important that people come together to speak for undocumented people who are facing the situation they are in, the ultimate goal should support undocumented people so they can speak for themselves.

To learn more about the organization, visit Sinbarrerascville.com.

Chad Oba, a mental health professional who lives in Buckingham County, detailed trauma children experienced when separated from parents or placed in facilities.

Oba said that people in ICE facilities may not have the training to de-escalate stressful situations for children, further traumatizing them.

“This trauma is carried with them into their lives,” Oba said. “It’s not something that goes away. It will repeat, and repeat, even upon reunification.”


Following the presentation, people drove or carpooled to Farmville Presbyterian Church, where participants received permission from church leadership to park.

The march was not permitted by the town.

A town resident reportedly approached Patton, saying he did not advise that people park in the Presbyterian Church lot. Participants were then encouraged to park in nearby municipal lots.

Approximately 75 began the march, walking through South Main Street until nearly reaching McDonald’s, then using the crosswalk to turn to walk toward North Main Street.

Before the march, people assembled outside of the church spoke about chants to use and discussed corresponding with bystanders in a polite and non-confrontational way.

Representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia was present to supervise the march.

As participants walked, they held signs and gave chants such as, “No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here,” “This is what democracy looks like,” and “No fear, no hate, immigrants make America great.”

Participants stopped at the Prince Edward County Courthouse, holding signs and giving chants on the courthouse steps.

Passing vehicles honked. One person pulled up at a stoplight held a sign up to the window that read, “We’re all dreamers.”

One person at a stoplight honked and told protestors, “Lock them up.”

Once participants returned to the lot, a representative from Farmville Police Department pulled to the lot and asked if participants were doing OK, or received any trouble.

Patton spoke to the representative and said the town treated everyone well.

Patton spoke to participants after the march, encouraging them to bring what they learned back to their own communities and said the organization is expected to plan events in Farmville in the future.