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Local activists protest ICE during High Holy Days

Never Again Action, AMOR demand shutdown of Wyatt Facility for ICE ties

As Jewish residents across the state observe this year’s High Holy Days — Judaism’s most sacred season — many are also calling for the closure of the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility for its connection to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and protesting the detention of undocumented immigrants across the country.

Joined by community allies, members of Jewish-led advocacy group Never Again Action and the Providence-based coalition Alliance to Mobilize Our Resistance gathered in Roger Williams Memorial Park Monday evening before marching to the steps of the State House, calling on elected officials to act.

The demonstration followed months of protests by community members demanding the shutdown of the Wyatt Facility, whose board is currently considering a forbearance agreement that would strengthen the facility’s ties to ICE. During one such protest Aug. 14,  a Wyatt correctional officer drove his truck into a group of peacefully-assembled protesters. The incident left five people hospitalized, The Herald previously reported.

The High Holy Days “are a time for us to reflect our motivations and the implications of our actions,” said Tal Frieden ’19.5. “It is important work that we do every single year. But it is particularly important in a time like this one,” Frieden added, describing “crimes against fellow human beings (that) are being committed across this country and here in Rhode Island.”

The High Holy Days marks the 10-day period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the latter taking place from sundown tonight until sundown Oct. 9.

During the protest, activists called on Gov. Gina Raimondo to join their cause, as they have been doing since the summer. Raimondo was invited to Monday evening’s demonstration, said Never Again Action spokesperson Amy Anthony, but did not attend. Raimondo could not be reached for comment by press time.

Activists reiterated their three key demands for Raimondo: publicly support legislation which would close Wyatt and ban private prisons in Rhode Island, move to release all ICE detainees held at the Wyatt and prohibit local and state collaboration with ICE in Rhode Island.

“To our elected officials, to people on the Wyatt Board, we say to them: ‘Any day that you want to decide to make the right choice, it is never too late’,” said Rabbi Michelle Dardashti, associate chaplain for the Jewish community at the University, in reference to the proposed forbearance agreement.

“If they won’t come to us, we will go to them,” said former state representative and Never Again Action organizer Aaron Regunberg ’12, before leading dozens of activists to the State House. They chanted, “Up, Up with Liberation! Down, Down with Deportation!” as they made their way. The chants were bolstered with honks from passing cars and the activists’ voices only gained in strength as they neared the State House.

On their way to the State House at the Smith Street crossing, activists gathered to perform Tashlikh, a High Holy Days atonement ritual that traditionally involves casting bread into a body of water.

Dardashti led the ritual while offering words of encouragement and reflection. Bread and slips of paper inscribed with prayer were passed around among the crowd.

“We’re here today to do ‘Tashlikh’ to strengthen us … because it is really painful to stand with people in fear. And we may be afraid too,” Dardashti said.

“We’ve invited elected officials today to cast off their sins of inaction,” Frieden added.

Once gathered on the steps of the State House, community members performed Yizkor, the Jewish Memorial Prayer recited on Yom Kippur, and lit yahrzeit candles to remember the dead.

“Let’s take this moment to recommit as we gather here to collectively remember those whose lives have been lost due to ICE and the detention machine, here in Rhode Island and beyond,” Regunberg said. “We will remain in this fight and we will refuse to let up until our community brothers and sisters can live with the safety and humanity that they deserve.”

Regunberg also affirmed that Never Again, along with other allies, will continue to pressure elected officials to take action.

“Next week is the Jewish holiday of Sukkot,” he said. “We are giving the governor until then to do what any courageous leader should be doing right now — and that is taking action to join our fight.”

Wyatt spokesperson Chris Hunter told The Herald that he had not been aware of the planned demonstration. He declined further comment, but confirmed that the next Wyatt Board meeting would take place Oct. 21. The public agenda will be posted 48 hours in advance of the meeting, he added.

After the protest and the crowds had cleared, a display of yahrzeit candles, designed to burn for 24 hours, were left glowing in front of the State House.

“We are going to leave them here,” Regunberg said, “to make sure that everyone in the State House remembers the violence of this system and the cost of their inaction.”


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