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Organizing Within: DREAM Activists Infiltrate Florida Detention Center

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CREDIT: Steve Pavey/The NIYA

In an effort to expose U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s failure to follow its own stated immigration policy, young DREAM activists have infiltrated Broward Transitional Center, a detention center in Florida, by intentionally getting arrested and detained with the aim of gathering the stories of young immigrant inmates to share with the public. Two activists released from the detention center revealed their identities, but others, said Mahammad Abdollahi of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, still remain behind bars, organizing within.

The action is meant to highlight the continued detainment of hundreds of "deferred action"-eligible undocumented immigrants who have committed low-level crimes, despite an ICE memo directing officers not to prosecute “low priority” cases.

“We want a full review of all of the cases here at Broward Transitional Center, and we want the immediate release of all low priority cases here in Broward,” said Viridiana Martinez, one of the NIYA activists who infiltrated the Broward detention facility, in an interview with Democracy Now.

ICE has struggled to review and close low priority cases since the memo’s release more than a year ago. To date, only 2 percent of backlogged immigration cases have been closed, according to a report by the Transaction Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

“A lot of [the detainees at Broward] were caught either driving without a license or as passengers at a check point or maybe fishing without a license or at work or at a corner at Home Depot," said Marco Saavedra, another of the NIYA activists who infiltrated the detention center, in a separate Democracy Now interview. "Definitely the ones without criminal histories are very favorable for [prosecutorial] discretion,” he said.

“Low priority folks should not be deported,” said Abdollahi.

In June, President Barack Obama announced a second immigration memo that would allow undocumented youth who were brought to the U.S. before the age of 16 and who meet other stringent criteria to apply for “deferred action,” which would prevent them from being deported and allow them to obtain a work visa.

NIYA claimed to have uncovered more than 100 cases of people who, according to the policies pushed by the Obama administration of the past year, should be released, including several DREAM-eligible youth—who would qualify for deferred action under the memo—still being detained in Broward Transitional Center.

Though the structures of accountability are muddled—immigration enforcement involves the confusing intersection of local and federal law, and the Broward Transitional Center is run by a private company called GEO Group—Abdollahi, however, is confident about where to lay the blame. “It’s always on ICE, always on the Obama administration…When the local [ICE] office is not doing its job, the national office needs to step in.”

NIYA claimed they also found conditions in the detention for immigrant detainees unsatisfactory. The detainees have access to lawyers, but Abdollahi said they sometimes give bad advice and to detainees, the attorneys “feel like they’re working for ICE.”

Some of the imprisoned are also denied access to healthcare. Junior Harriot, was shot in the back in 2001, and the bullet is still lodged in his spine. According to DreamActivist.org, “because of his injury and lack of medical attention in detention, he now has a clot in his knee; he cannot feel his right knee…Doctors at the detention center refuse to allow him a cane.” DreamActivist.org details other cases from the Broward Transitional Center as well.

A complex issue like immigration enforcement can make it difficult to hold those in power accountable, whether private prison operators or federal officials. NIYA hopes to force accountability in an unaccountable system, especially for ICE officials. Said Abdollahi, “Only if people are watching are they doing their job.”

Eric Murphy is a journalism intern with Campus Progress.

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