On April 24 — inspired by the heroic resistance of the detainees who had begun a hunger strike on April 18 — a solidarity demonstration was held outside the Folkston ICE Processing Center in Folkston, Georgia, by the Shut Down FIPC campaign.
The acts of resistance by detainees inside the facility — which is staged to become the largest ICE detention facility in the country — this past week precipitated following their participation in a rally organized April 16 by the campaign. For hours, through the prison yard of Unit B4, both protesters and inmates shared stories and chants, albeit separated by layers of chain-linked fences and barbed wires.
In retaliation for their participation in the April 16 protest, GEO Group guards began to feed the detainees spoiled food, and thew some of the detainees into solitary confinement, detainees told family members and coalition activists. Many were also denied communication to the outside. All 60 detainees of the B4 unit began a hunger strike on April 18. News of detainees in the C4 unit of the facility also engaging in a sit-in strike reached the campaign organizers on April 21.
The hunger strike sends a powerful message to those in power—that despite everything—in the most difficult circumstances—the people will unite across nationalities and fight injustice.
On April 24, many of the protesters traveled hours to attend the emergency solidarity rally in Folkston. This time, the prison yard was empty — the guards had the detainees locked up inside their units. However, a few detainees from Unit B4, where the hunger strike began, waved, and banged on the window of the door to the yard, acknowledging the presence of the protesters outside.
Natalie Villasana, organizer with the Shut Down FIPC campaign, addressed the incarcerated immigrants on the mic: “Immigrants are not criminals, immigrants are welcome here. If Biden is going to go back on his promises that he uses to get votes, then we are going to expose that. We are going to keep fighting and build an independent movement to shut down this torture facility.”
The Democratic Party establishment and President Joe Biden, who signed an executive order to phase out the use of private prisons through the Department of Justice but has yet to extend it to ICE detention centers, continue to obfuscate their pivotal roles in the escalation of human rights abuses against immigrants and asylum seekers across the country.
Nima, an Iranian organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation, spoke passionately about the role of U.S. imperialism in creating the immigration crisis. He said, “This is a legacy of colonial exploitation. The U.S. government deindustrialized these people’s homelands, bombed these people’s homelands, supported paramilitary and fascist coups, and now people are fleeing the violence that imperialism caused.”
A group of detainees stood by the B4 door and listened to the chants and speeches by the protestors and responded with whistles and raised fists. Although not without great difficulty, protesters outside and detainees inside were able to communicate periodically through the window.
One detainee who heard the protesters ostensibly through his cell window vent was Julio Gutierrez, a 32-year-old immigrant from Mexico. He was able to jot down an organizer’s phone number before quickly calling and explaining his situation inside.
“I have been living in this country for 18 years, but a couple of months ago they put me in here for driving without a license,” Julio said over the phone. He also told the organizers that some people have been processed to be deported already, and yet ICE continues to hold them indefinitely. Detainees demand swift processing of their cases. Julio also explained that the detainees of B4 ended the hunger strike on Thursday, April 21.
Another inmate named Saúl cried out to protesters through the thin window vent that he has been detained for many years and that “[GEO Group] took everything from me: my family, my health, and my money… now they’re trying to kill me!” Saúl continued to explain that many inmates are so sick from not eating that they cannot even shout out to vocalize the atrocious conditions.
Protesters made sure their gestures and voices were heard loud and clear: they held their fists in the air while crying out “Te Oimos! Te vemos! No están solos!” and “We hear you! We see you! You are not alone!”
Folkston ICE Processing Center, a public-private partnership of ICE, and their private partner-operator GEO Group, reached a deal in December 2021 to expand the facility by 3,000 additional beds, which would make it the largest ICE facility in the country and over half the size of the population of the city it was built in. The Campaign to Shutdown FIPC aims to stop this expansion—and mobilize working people to shut down the inhumane facility once and for all.