FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Protesting Immigrant Prisons in the Rio Grande Valley

The night before his five-day walk to protest immigrant prisons of the Rio Grande Valley, Jay Johnson-Castro drove to Los Fresnos to get an advance glimpse of International Educational Services, Inc. (IES).

“Where’s the school?” he asked, as a guard approached him in the parking lot.

“What school?” said the guard, explaining that IES was a detention center for “young adults” whose mothers were being held at the nearby Port Isabel Immigrant Detention Center.

When Johnson-Castro explained that he was against prisons for children, the guard replied that IES wasn’t really a prison.

“Can they go to the mall?” asked Johnson-Castro.

“No,” replied the guard.

“Can they go to the theater?”

“No,” again.

“Can they dress the way they want to?”

For the third time, “no.”

“If they can’t get out,” Johnson-Castro asked the guard, “what do you think it is?”

On his walks Wednesday and Thursday, Johnson-Castro heard from local folks that the IES facility holds about 100 boys and 60 girls who have been picked up with–and separated from–immigrant parents. If the children turn 18 years old they are transferred to an adult jail.

“One source who has been inside told us there could be worse places for the children,” said Johnson-Castro. “At least they are fed and clothed. But they are also very sad because they are not free. They are prisoners.”

“IES was the forerunner to the T. Don Hutto prison camp in Taylor, Texas,” explains Johnson-Castro. “They built Hutto in order to keep the children with their mothers, but IES is still here, still holding children separately. We still have the problem that Hutto was supposed to fix.”

Inside are Mexican children arrested near the Mexico border, but also a child from Brazil, and one from Korea. One source reported seeing a 16-year-old girl pregnant. When did the girl get pregnant? Who is able to speak Portuguese or Korean?

“We keep unfolding things,” says Johnson-Castro. “The more we ask, the more we have to ask.” For example, why are there sixty cars in a parking lot outside a prison for 160 children? If IES is not a school inside, what kind of education is being provided? If activists are troubled by the imprisonment of children at Hutto, why are they not raising issues about IES?

An Internal Revenue Service Form 990 posted online in pdf format shows that IES had a budget of $5.6 million dollars in 2004. As far as Johnson-Castro is concerned, the budget is what drives the operation.

“Sixty cars and 160 kids?” he asks. “There are a lot of families dependent for their livelihood on the imprisonment of children. And the cost of all this is that we lose our morality and conscience when we imprison children or any human being for money. And who wants it that way? The people who profit want it that way-not the rest of us.”

As with his walk to the Rolling Plains prison of Haskell, Texas, Johnson-Castro was treated to a police escort on the first day of his walk. First, the Brownsville Police, then Los Fresnos police. And on the second day, when Johnson-Castro completed the walk from IES to the Port Isabel Immigrant Detention Center, he found swarms of mosquitoes and a half dozen federal cars waiting for him at a blockaded gate.

The protest walker had been walking alone all day, without a single reporter or photographer. But there were three cars that had fallen in behind the truck of John Neck who always follows Johnson-Castro to keep him protected from traffic. So the feds had the protesters outnumbered.

“Don’t tell me you did all this for us,” said Johnson-Castro to a federal guard at the Port Isabel gate.

“Yes, we did, sir,” replied the guard.

“Well, I’m complimented. One guy walking alone.”

“Anytime you have something like this we have to take precautions. You can’t go in there.”

“No way I want to go in there willingly. I’m here to bring attention to you. This may not look like a real big event, but before you know it, what’s happening here will be known. Do you know why we’re here?”

“Yes sir, I’ve been told.”

That’s when Johnson-Castro reminded the guard, there was a time when it was legal to buy and sell human beings. “This is just a 21st Century version,” explained Johnson-Castro, the man that the Rio Grande Guardian calls Quixotic. In place of plantations we now have prisons. And it’s all done for profit.

“Can I talk to the prisoners?”

“No sir.”

“Can the media talk to the prisoners?” (A Quixotic question today.)

“No sir.”

“So where are the freedoms of speech or press? Where are these inalienable rights guaranteed by the Constitution? And why are these rights being denied to these people in a country that is supposed to be free?”

When the guard deferred the question as something that should be addressed to other federal officials at another time, Johnson-Castro replied: “This includes you.”

Not far from the prison gate at Port Isabel is a housing development for federal guards in training, but for reasons unknown the guards don’t live there now. Nobody does. The houses are all boarded up with plywood.

For Johnson-Castro and his friend John Neck, the empty houses are a sure sign of what’s not being done right. Locked up in the immigrant prisons are painters, landscapers, and carpenters. “Give us this place for the immigrants who are now in prison, and we’ll make a city out of this.”

On Friday, day three, Johnson-Castro and John Neck take their steady caravan into Harlingen on their way toward the infamous Raymondville tent city prison camp, where they plan to arrive for a 1:00 pm vigil on Sunday. The walk did get advance coverage on KGBT-TV, so the people of Harlingen should be prepared for what they are about to see.

GREG MOSES is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. His chapter on civil rights under Clinton and Bush appears in Dime’s Worth of Difference, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. He can be reached at: gmosesx@prodigy.net.

 

More articles by:

Greg Moses writes about peace and Texas, but not always at the same time. He is author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. As editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review he has written about racism faced by Black agriculturalists in Texas. He can be reached at gmosesx@gmail.com

September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
Mairead Maguire
Demonization of Russia in a New Cold War Era
Dean Baker
The Bank Bailout of 2008 was Unnecessary
Wim Laven
Hurricane Trump, Season 2
Yves Engler
Smearing Dimitri Lascaris
Ron Jacobs
From ROTC to Revolution and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
The Cannibals of Horsepower
Binoy Kampmark
A Traditional Right: Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats
Laura Flanders
History Markers
Weekend Edition
September 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Carl Boggs
Obama’s Imperial Presidency
Joshua Frank
From CO2 to Methane, Trump’s Hurricane of Destruction
Jeffrey St. Clair
Maria’s Missing Dead
Andrew Levine
A Bulwark Against the Idiocy of Conservatives Like Brett Kavanaugh
T.J. Coles
Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Celebrity Salesman for the Military-Industrial-Complex
Jeff Ballinger
Nike and Colin Kaepernick: Fronting the Bigots’ Team
David Rosen
Why Stop at Roe? How “Settled Law” Can be Overturned
Gary Olson
Pope Francis and the Battle Over Cultural Terrain
Nick Pemberton
Donald The Victim: A Product of Post-9/11 America
Ramzy Baroud
The Veiled Danger of the ‘Dead’ Oslo Accords
Kevin Martin
U.S. Support for the Bombing of Yemen to Continue
Robert Fisk
A Murder in Aleppo
Robert Hunziker
The Elite World Order in Jitters
Ben Dangl
After 9/11: The Staggering Economic and Human Cost of the War on Terror
Charles Pierson
Invade The Hague! Bolton vs. the ICC
Robert Fantina
Trump and Palestine
Daniel Warner
Hubris on and Off the Court
John Kendall Hawkins
Boning Up on Eternal Recurrence, Kubrick-style: “2001,” Revisited
Haydar Khan
Set Theory of the Left
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail