Metro, News

Vote on Wyatt Facility agreement postponed

Proposed agreement would strengthen ties with ICE, make private sale possible

By and
Senior Staff Writer and Metro Editor
Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Protestors gathered outside the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls in anticipation of yesterday’s vote, which was postponed due to “concerns” of the facility’s board. The vote concerns a proposed forbearance agreement with UMB Bank.

The board overseeing the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility postponed a highly anticipated vote on the facility’s future over unspecified “concerns,” before closing its meeting to the public Monday evening.

The board was scheduled to vote on a proposed forbearance agreement that would strengthen the facility’s relationship to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and set in motion a process for potential sale of the prison, reducing what little public supervision currently exists. The postponement follows a series of clashes over the past few months between community members demanding that the facility shut down and the Wyatt, which has struggled to respond to public outcry.

At yesterday’s meeting, the board apologized for postponing last Monday’s public discussion to the evening of Friday Sept. 13, a time that conflicted with the Jewish Sabbath. Protesters led by Jewish advocacy group Never Again Action shut down the Friday meeting with an impromptu Shabbat service, condemning directors for attempting to silence Jewish voices.

“We apologize to our Jewish friends and ask for your forgiveness,” said Wilder Arboleda, a board member at the Wyatt who chaired the Monday meeting. Arboleda explained that the board had postponed the meeting last week over safety concerns, but admitted that the timing was “insensitive and wrong.”

While Arboleda spoke, a sea of protesters in yellow shirts stood with their backs to him. They had gathered to pressure the board to vote against the proposed forbearance agreement or resign from their positions. As the board member apologized, the activists remained still.

Arboleda then announced that the board would not be voting on the proposed forbearance agreement with UMB Bank last night, as originally scheduled, and would instead be conducting a private meeting.

“We, the board, also have concerns that we need to have addressed,” Arboleda said as the reason for the postponement. “We will be going into closed session to discuss the draft forbearance agreement with our lawyers.”

At this point, one activist, as on Friday, blew a shofar, a horn used in Jewish religious ceremonies. Two other activists then walked toward the board members and ripped a black cloth in front of them. Dozens of other protesters followed suit until a pile of fabric lay on the floor in front of where the board was sitting.

The protesters were performing an ancient Jewish ritual called Kriah, Tal Frieden ’19.5 later said. Kriah involves tearing cloth as an expression of grief or a response to evil. “Today, we tore our cloths and we mourned,” Frieden added.

Arboleda closed the meeting by acknowledging the protesters’ objections but recognized that they “have obligations to multiple stakeholders.”

After the board moved into closed session, Never Again Action held a press conference outside of the prison where they repeated calls to shut the Wyatt down and condemned the board for moving into a private meeting.

Former state representative and Never Again Action organizer Aaron Regunberg ’12 called on elected officials to intervene to shut down the Wyatt. Never Again activists also demanded that local politicians move to ban private prisons in Rhode Island, release all ICE detainees and prohibit local and state collaboration with ICE. Regunberg added that organizers would deliver an open letter to Governor Gina Raimondo Monday evening.

“Governor Raimondo, we are talking to you, as Jews, as immigrants, as Central Falls residents, as Rhode Islanders who were pepper-sprayed and assaulted,” Regunberg said. “Will our state leaders continue to stand by and watch? Or will they finally step the hell up?”

At press time, the board had not re-scheduled a vote on the proposed forbearance agreement.