Immigrant rights activists, community leaders, and survivors of the immigration detention system held a people’s tribunal in Aurora, Colorado on May 18th to put ICE’s crimes on trial. The trial brought together over 200 people from the community and focused on ICE’s systemic abuses, the dismal conditions in their detention facilities, and their inhumane, exploitative practices.

Organized by the American Friends Services Committee, Coloradans For Immigrant Rights, and the Detention Watch Network, the event centered on the testimony of a panel of three “judges” who had recently visited the ICE detention center in Aurora, which is run by for-profit prison corporation GEO Group. All three judges reported obscene conditions in the detention center, as they witnessed personally and as told to them by the detainees they visited.

Testimonies emphasized the intimidating atmosphere of ICE detention centers, where tyrannical guards wield powers to impose solitary confinement and force manual labor. One judge recounted the story of a detainee suffering from polio who was denied proper medical treatment. Another judge, Marge Taniwaki, who had grown up in a U.S. Japanese internment camp during World War II, described conditions not unlike what she experienced in the concentration camp.

Taniwaki noted the contradiction of immigrants leaving countries torn by poverty and violence only to come to the one that is directly responsible for, and profits massively from, the plundering of those countries. And yet, she said, the U.S. does not treat its immigrants with compassion, respect or like human beings at all.

Taniwaki also pointed to the importance of finding the truth in history as the major first step in changing it. She stressed the importance of young people and the necessity for youth activism in this difficult and protracted struggle.

After a brief intermission, the judges announced their sentencing in the form of a list of demands:

  • The complete disbandment of ICE and closing of their detention centers
  • Access to adequate health care for migrants in custody
  • An end to privatization and any further expansion of ICE detention centers
  • Guaranteed legal representation and due process for detained immigrants
  • Official recognition by ICE and detention center staff that solitary confinement and forced labor are inhumane

The receptive, diverse crowd cheered and poetry, song and dance followed. There was a very potent energy in the room and a sense of unity that underscored the importance of the immigrant community and how truly vital they are to the working class of this country.

We stand with all immigrants and demand an end to deportation and the detaining and imprisonment of innocent human beings. It is precisely capitalism that favors profit over human lives and creates the conditions for these practices to survive and thrive. We are done with this racist, bigoted, unjust system — we demand a system that fulfills human needs as a priority and erodes the conditions which allow racism and bigotry to exist in the first place!