Fernando Lopez, an organizer of a protest on Tuesday outside the Eloy Detention Center in Eloy, Arizona, said he knows what it’s like to be behind bars as an immigrant detainee.
For Lopez, an undocumented immigrant, it began in 2011, when on his way to work he was pulled over, arrested, and later sent to Maricopa County Jail. The initial fee for his release was $10,500, he said.
“I didn’t have much family here and I had no money,” Lopez told NBC Latino in Spanish. “I never thought I was going to get out.”
Protesters chained themselves in front of the Eloy Detention Center, one of the largest detention centers in the country, saying they are calling on President Obama to stop deportations and what they call the criminalization of immigrants.
According to #Not1More Deportation campaign, their intent is to shut down the district Immigration and Customs Enforcement office and urge the President to be more than a bystander in the immigration debate.
The protesters say they are using civil disobedience to demonstrate “the inhumane imprisonment” that goes on inside the detention centers and the “needless warehousing” of the undocumented immigrants.
Many of the people within Eloy have not committed any major offense, says the group, alleging that the detainees are fulfilling a detention quota with the 34,000 jail bed mandate.
“Behind these walls are thousands taken far away from their families and the better lives they came here for,” Tomas Martinez of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights said in the website. “For Washington, detainees are just a number, but for us the people inside Eloy are our sisters and brothers.”
Paula Diaz, a freelance journalist currently working for Telemundo 52 Los Angeles, witnessed the protest and photographed a group of activists who were chained outside the Detention Center.
“They were pushing the police officer and were asking to get arrested,” Diaz told NBC Latino. “Since the police told them they weren’t going to get arrested at Eloy, everyone was on their way to Phoenix to march against ICE.”
Lopez says it was a collective action of immigration supporters who gave him the opportunity to get out of jail and get involved with activism against deportation.
“For someone who had no hope of getting out, it was amazing to the power people have when they come together and fight for a cause,” Lopez said. “It’s very impactful.”
Tuesday’s events are part of the actions that immigrant rights activists are taking to call attention to immigration reform legislation, which has been stalled in the House.
In a op-ed published on Tuesday in The Hill, Kica Matos, director of Immigrant Rights and Racial Justice at the Center for Community Change denounced Senator Ted Cruz, who called immigrant activists who interrupted his speech “paid political operatives.” Cruz said activists were ‘scared’ of conservatives.
But Matos said what many young Dreamers and immigration activists fear is their parents’ deportation.
“Ask any local immigrant rights organization, and you’ll hear the heartbreaking stories of kids left waiting in school, waiting for parents who will never pick them up again. Or parents never returning home after running an errand, or going to work, because they were swept up under our nation’s broken immigration system – a system that works daily to split families apart.”
“With Congressional Republicans, now seemingly led by Sen. Cruz, dragging their feet on immigration reform, these kids get the daylights scared out of them over and over again.”