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Hunger Strike Spreads to Texas Detention Center

Systemic Abuse by GEO Group and ICE Exposed in Multi-State Effort by Detainees in Private Facilities

(Tacoma, WA, Conroe, TX) – After a massive hunger strike inside the Tacoma Detention Center reached its 11th day, detainees found their effort spreading to other facilities inspired by their demands. Last night at midnight, immigrants held at the Joe Corley Detention Center in Conroe, TX initiated their own fast in protest of their treatment at the facility run by the same company, the GEO Group, and as part of the nation-wide call for an end to deportations.

Immigrant rights activist Maru Mora Villalpando sees momentum building for reforms but expressed concern over the reaction of ICE and the GEO Group: “The hunger strikers are civil rights leaders taking a brave stand against inhumane treatment. At the Northwest Detention Center, GEO Group and ICE have retaliated by putting leaders in solitary confinement and threatening to force-feed others. With the strike spreading to Texas, it’s time for ICE and GEO Group to recognize the detainees’ demands instead of engaging in retaliation.”

Bob Libal, Executive Director of Grassroots Leadership in Austin, Texas added, “Immigrants in detention should not have to go to such extreme lengths to blow the whistle on mistreatment within ICE’s vast and largely privatized immigration detention system. GEO Group, the for-profit prison corporation that operates both these detention centers, has a well-documented track record around Texas of canceled contracts and scandal-ridden facilities, including at several prisons for immigrants in Texas.”

In the recent White House budget proposal to Congress, the administration sought funding for a quota of more than 30,000 individuals to be held in detention on a daily basis, upholding what has been an unprecedented practice of subjecting immigration enforcement to an arbitrary line item. Detainees say that the treatment they receive is a result of the profit-seeking element that has inserted itself into the detention system. An attorney who confirmed the strike this morning after visiting the Conroe, TX facility, communicated the hunger strikers demands to be:

Stop the deportations
Just treatment for detainees
End overcrowding in the cells
End double judgement for old cases
Food with nutrition in it
Better medical care
Lower calling prices
Lower rates at commissary

and said the detainees wanted it known that they were inspired by the on-going Washington State efforts.

Read two letter from the hunger strikers here: Letter 1, Letter 2.

An eight-page handwritten letter from the Washington State hunger strikers explaining their demands is available upon request. The letter states, in part, “[W]e join ourselves to that effort and demand that the Federal Executive (Mr. President Barack Obama) use his presidential authority and order a total stop to the unjust deportations that are separating families, destroying homes, and bringing uncertainty, insecurity and unhappy futures to our children, our loved ones.”

(Trusted Source: GrassRoots Leadership, TX)

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Stop Robert Garza’s execution by association in Texas

by Joan Braune and Amanda Lusky
Re-posted from WagingNonviolence by permission of authors

Robert Garza is scheduled to die on September 19. The state of Texas has not attempted to prove that he killed anyone. When a young Latino male in the Rio Grande Valley — the long-impoverished, southernmost tip of the state — is accused of gang involvement, the question of who actually pulled the trigger does not give pause to Texas’ well-oiled killing machine.

Garza was convicted of involvement in the shooting of four immigrant women in a car in Donna, Texas, 11 years ago. The killings were carried out by members of the gang to which Garza belonged, allegedly to protect the gang from criminal charges from a witness to a previous crime. He was convicted under a controversial law in the state known as the Law of Parties, which does not require the prosecution to prove that the defendant killed anyone, or even intended to kill, but only that she or he had a certain level of involvement in a felony that led to a murder. Under this law, for example, someone who drives a culprit to a convenience store and waits outside, intending to drive the get-away car after an armed robbery, can be charged with murder if the other person kills someone inside the store.

In 2007, Kenneth Foster, Jr., was facing execution in Texas under the Law of Parties, and his case had been subject to much media attention and protest. Just hours before his execution, Foster’s sentence was commuted by Governor Rick Perry — who is not known for skepticism about capital punishment — from death to life imprisonment. Following the commutation of Foster’s sentence, a bill was proposed in the state legislature to remove the application of the death penalty to Law of Parties cases; the bill failed to pass, however, and it is still possible to receive a death sentence under the Law of Parties.

Garza contends that he did not participate in shooting the women whose murder has landed him on death row, and that he was not even at the scene of the crime. However, he does not eschew all blame for the deaths of the four women that day in 2002; he admits that he knew the crime was going to occur and that he did not act to prevent the killings. But after 11 years of incarceration, he speaks of repentance, of having become a devoted Christian. He now deeply regrets his involvement in gang activity and wants to speak out against gang violence. (Garza’s mother, Sylvia Garza, has also become an active advocate of an end to gang violence.) This is a long journey from Garza’s troubled youth. He left school after eighth grade, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, and he spent time in the juvenile corrections system while still a teenager.

Supporters of Garza have created a Facebook event with further information for those who wish to contact the governor and the Board of Pardons and Paroles to stop the execution. Letters to decision-makers can also be found here and here.

Very little public discussion has drawn the connection between the Law of Parties and Garza’s fast-approaching execution date. In fact, a local television news interview earlier this summer focused instead on a prosecutor’s claim that Garza was involved in the infamous “Edinburg massacre,” which occurred months after the crime for which Garza was convicted. Garza was not tried for involvement in the Edinburg killings, but the report focused on that crime instead and on the mother of two of the Edinburg shooting victims, who wants to be present at Garza’s execution.

Like the “stand your ground” laws that have garnered much press of late in relation to the George Zimmerman trial, the Law of Parties is not neutral with regard to race, class and other power differentials because of how it treats members of so-called gangs.

A gang, like a corporation, is a group of people organized in a particular way. Unlike a gang, however, corporations have recognition as legal persons, and members and shareholders in a corporation are largely protected from criminal liability when the corporation engages in illegal activity. The members of a gang, however — often younger and generally darker-skinned than corporate CEOs — tend to be held criminally liable for each other’s actions under legislation such as the Law of Parties. Although one might object that gangs have an explicitly violent aim while corporations do not, that is much too simple. It is well known, for example, that some gangs in U.S. history have played roles in social justice movements; “CRIPS,” for example, stands for Citizens Revolution in Progress. The Latin Kings gang in New York has been reconfiguring itself into a nonviolent organization against police brutality and for basic liberties, as detailed in the documentary Black and Gold. Although Robert Garza’s own gang, the Tri-City Bombers, has been involved in multiple murders and can hardly be considered an nonviolent advocacy organization, the difference in treatment between the Bombers and, say, Union Carbide is puzzling.

There are a myriad of reasons that people oppose the death penalty across the board, from holistic commitments to nonviolence to concerns about racial and economic disparities and the false convictions of innocent people. But Robert Garza’s case is not simply a case about the death penalty. It forces us to ask whether we are willing, as a society, to inflict execution upon people whom we acknowledge did not intentionally or directly participate in the killing of anyone.

The British common law tradition, out of which our legal system largely emerged, linked murder to “malice aforethought” — premeditated evil, with full intent to kill. The Law of Parties, in a rush to place harsher sentences on people involved in gang-type criminal activities, cuts away at this tradition and privileges punishment over basic justice. Blaming gang members for the entire collective’s actions does not necessarily stop the gang; loyalty and the sacrifice of a few might strengthen them all.

Garza’s case represents a missed opportunity that we still have time to rectify. We should be improving community support and education so young people have some place besides gangs to turn to. Rather than trying to put more people in prison and on death row, we can strive to run out of prisoners instead. Achieving this goal will only happen if we critically re-evaluate our current conceptions of justice. Garza’s life could represent a starting point for dialogue about these difficult topics. Silencing Garza by executing him not only stops his story from becoming a powerful message of hope — it makes our own silence deafening.

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Joan Braune is assistant professor of philosophy at Mount Mary University in Milwaukee, Wisc. Amanda Lusky is an M.A. in philosophy. She is currently finishing a Ph.D. at the University of Kentucky on pragmatism and innovative democracy.

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A Humble Plea from Wendy Darling: Come to the Texas Capitol

People call me Wendy Darling. I am a special needs fat person, and I am a non-violent activist. I am also a woman from Texas. I was born here, in a small town. Into a family and community that will never really be able to understand me. Our lives are so different, we don’t enjoy the same activities or music or…much of anything. That doesn’t mean I don’t love my family, or that I can’t have compassion for my fellow man. It’s just difficult to be around each other sometimes because of our lack of understanding of each others’ ways. I wish we were able to forgive each other for our differences sometimes and just agree to disagree without making each other feel like pariahs for having an opposing viewpoint. I’m willing to admit my own failure in this area.

These days, no matter what your political views, or lack thereof, everybody complains about how corrupt the government is in some way or another. I hear the Constitution, and the rules argued back and forth by all sides on every issue. Well, what I viewed with over 100,000 other people via the live-stream of the Texas Senate special session this past Tuesday – Wednesday morning was a group of underdogs, who came prepared, and banded together to represent the people who elected them. I do not represent the Democratic party, but I watched them doing their JOBS, and the people who came to offer their support cheering them on. These Texas Senators played hard, but they played by the rules, and they WON fair and square.

From their opposing side, I saw a man take advantage of a woman’s absence due to the funeral of her father to sneak in and try to steal the floor away, and throw out the rulebooks completely. I saw men with friends in high places try to cheat the system.

I don’t care what you believe regarding this bill. We live in the United States of America, where we have a bunch of annoying, boring rules set in place to which our elected officials must follow while representing their constituents to the best of their ability. We have to trust them to do what they say they’ll do.

Well those Democratic Texas State Senators followed rules, and they had the blessing of the people.

Don’t believe what Rick Perry says. He is a slick snake, and a liar that doesn’t care WHAT happens to Texas women or babies. Perry and his camp use fear tactic words like “unruly mob” and “terrorists” to describe aunts, mothers, sisters, friends, brothers, husbands, grandmothers, wives, sons and daughters. He doesn’t care if this bill passes or not. What he cares about is doing whatever it takes to keep his wallet full. He is a laughingstock, and he an embarrassment. He makes Texas look stupid and ignorant to the rest of the ENTIRE WORLD. They laugh at us for continuing to elect such a moron. That saddens me because I LOVE TEXAS.

I want Texas to be the place I can be proud to call mine. The place they taught us about in elementary school. The Texas written about in the lyrics of our state song. Texas, our Texas. The state with that unforgettable shape. The Lone Star on the flag that is the only state flag allowed to fly at the same height as the United States flag. The state that has beaches, and prairies and mountains and coastal plains. My favorite land in the U.S.A. Where my spirit knows it is home.

I choose my battles carefully. I have to because as a disabled woman, I fight a daily internal fight against multiple illnesses that rob me of my energy and ability to live pain-free. I can’t sit idlely by while these gladiators go back into the lion’s den. I must go and offer my presence, and possibly my voice to honor their loyalty to the task put before them. If they have to go back and do battle against this same bill, I want to be one of the people there to give them the courage to push forward. I want to witness what will surely be a great struggle for truth, justice, and the American way.

I started writing this several hours ago, and now I get to my point. There are people fighting all over this land and the world for their rights against governments that have completely turned on them. Now, I have seen with my eyes, time after time, the government in my own backyard acting directly against the people. DIRECTLY AGAINST WOMEN.

I am sending out a humble plea.

Join us at the Texas State Capitol on July 1st to hold witness this special session. Come out from every corner of Texas and stand up and be counted. If you are an ally of freedom anywhere on this country, drop what you are doing and get here. We need you. We need your presence. We need your strength.

As you stand with us on behalf of Texas women, you stand symbolically against whatever injustices are happening in your own neighborhood and around the world. The people united can never be divided.

If positive change can happen in Texas, it can happen anywhere.

In the event I am arrested on July 1st, or something else happens to me, I would like for my family and friends and the rest of the world to know.

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Ramsey Muniz Prays for Freedom Now!

Letter from federal prisoner Ramsey Muniz:

For the first time in twenty years I have begun to pray and ask God for my freedom now! I have told God that I have suffered more than any other human being in the prisons of America, and that I feel the essence and pain of my beloved brother, Nelson Mandela. He was confined in the prisons and dungeons of Africa for over 20 years, and at this very moment he is fighting for his life. I prayed and cried for Nelson Mandela, and I ask our brothers and sisters to please take the time and go to a church and light a candle for him. Ask God to keep him alive for we need him at this very moment in our lives.

I demand my freedom now! I want my freedom now! Twenty years of suffering for an unjust incarceration is beyond the constitutional definition of “cruel and unusual punishment.” How much more must I suffer for something I did not do, and why?

I demand my freedom now and I ask that my brothers and sisters not ask or request, but begin to demand that I be a free man now! During the last 20 years I never even asked God to help bring about my freedom. For the first time throughout the morning, I felt as if God wanted for me to ask for my freedom, because the time has come for me to be a free man once again.

The message received is that we as Hispanics, Latinos, Mexican Americans, and Chicanos, are now in a strong political position to tell the Untied States government that justice needs to be addressed in the death sentence unjustly imposed on Ramiro “Ramsey” Muiz. We cannot allow this injustice to continue, for I do not want to die inside the prisons of America. My brother, Nelson Mandela, who struggled for his freedom and for his people, knows how it feels.

It is all about freedom, justice, and love, I demand my freedom now! I want to be a free man in this world once again.

We will share this sense of urgency with religious institutions, civil rights organizations, as well as national Hispanic, Latino, African American, and women organizations.

I continue to be strong spiritually, just as my brother Nelson Mandela has been to this very hour and minute, for I can feel the essence of his love and freedom.

Amor,
Ramsey

freeramsey.com

freeramsey.blogspot.com

supportramsey.blogspot.com

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News Alert: Mexican Border Officials Deport U.S. Citizens on Eve of Obama’s Visit

Students, faith leaders, and community members caught in border conflict

Minutes after midnight on April 28th, eight U.S. citizens from Austin, Texas, were deported from Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila, a Mexican border town opposite Del Rio, Texas. The Mexican government’s action comes a few days before President Obama’s visit to Mexico on Thursday to redefine the U.S.-Mexico relationship.

“We have organized these tours for 14 years and have never experienced anything like this. We are shocked and outraged,” said Judith Rosenberg, board president of Austin Tan Cerca de la Frontera (Austin So Close to the Border), a local non-profit.

The deported citizens were on an educational tour organized by ATCF to Ciudad Acuña to visit the offices of the CFO (Border Workers Committee), a community-based organization that defends worker and women’s rights on the Mexican side of the border.

As they were sitting down to have lunch, the delegation was surrounded by armed police, taken to the Mexican immigration office, detained and questioned for 9 hours, then deported to Del Rio. “We were never given a clear explanation of what charges and penalties we faced. We were not provided a legal translator and were pressured to sign some document under threat of being detained for up to 90 days in Saltillo, Coahuila,” said one deportee, a student at the University of Texas at Austin.

“We got a different kind of educational experience than we expected” said one of the other deportees, Reverend Kate Rohde of Wildflower Church in Austin. “If the Mexican Government is putting this kind of pressure on church ladies and students from the U.S., just for listening to workers, it is obvious that the Mexican workers we met receive much worse treatment from their government when they ask for humane working conditions and wages. We hope that President Obama will raise the issue of worker justice and independent unions when he meets with Mexico’s President.”

The group sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama asking for their assistance in this matter.

[Source: press release from trusted source, contact Josefina Castillo @ atcf.org]