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Why I Chained Myself to an ICE Prison -- and Why You Should, Too

I grabbed my bandana and prepared to chain myself to the entrance of one of the largest detention centers with the worst reputation in the United States.

Monday morning I woke at dawn and drove an hour from Phoenix to the small town of Eloy, Arizona. It was pretty warm already and I knew the Arizona sun would only grow hotter. I grabbed my bandana and prepared to chain myself to the entrance of one of the largest detention centers with the worst reputation in the United States. There were six of us in all — two men and four women. One was 16-year-old girl named Sandy Estrada. Her brother was detained inside.

“I am doing this so he and everybody else in there knows that we support them,” she said. “Obama has the power to keep families like mine together. He hasn’t done a thing.”

Eloy has enough beds for 1,600 people and has already had two men commit suicide inside this year. The prison was responsible for the placing of six of the Dream 9 — student activist who attempted reentry into the United States as protest July — in solitary confinement. The prison is run by Corrections Corporation of America, whose reported revenue has doubled throughout the 2000s as the federal government has contracted it to hold an increasing number of undocumented immigrants.

Another one of our group was a father of two children. As hours passed, he chanted “undocumented and unafraid!” and “ nos tienen miedo porque no tenemos miedo, which means, “they are scared of us because we aren’t scared.” Our bodies were locked together tightly, and if one of us moved too quickly we would all feel the pain of the heavy chains. The cops push us aggressively from time to time, but they said that with all the cameras around they wouldn’t dare arrest us. We remained wrapped in chains under the Arizona sun until we learned that Eloy Detention Center had shut down for the day. We returned to Phoenix after promising the guards we would be back until Eloy was closed forever.

 My journey to Eloy began four days earlier when I made my way to Arizona from Utah upon hearing very publicly about the shutdown of an immigration detention center. What intrigued me was the fact that there was absolutely nothing secretive or hidden about the upcoming action. People advertised the shut down in posters on Facebook and videos on YouTube. They put it out everywhere.

I had to get to Arizona in order to find out what kind of organizers would dare to be so transparent about direct action.

The planned events were part of the #not1more campaign pressuring President Obama to take administrative relief and put a stop to the deportations. Obama, who has been called Deporter in Chief by various migrant rights organizations, has deported nearly 2 million people during his time in office. With immigration reform stalled and no sign the deportation rate would slow down, #not1more decided to put together a conference for people around the country to share information and ideas on how to stop deportations themselves.

I was confused when I arrived at the immigration center in Phoenix and saw tons of children running around and grandparents lounging in the shade. When La Migra is mentioned in migrant communities, what comes to mind isn’t children playing and relaxation, and the atmosphere was jarring given the location. The center is where immigrants are brought and processed after a raid and are then transferred by bus to nearby for-profit detention prisons like Eloy.

The sunbathing grandparents didn’t match my conception of who normally orchestrates direct actions. Was this really the group that had declared it was going to “shut down ICE”?

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