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News :: Human Rights : Race
¡Pedro Juan Tavarez, Presente! ICE/Prisons Claim Yet Another Life in Boston
04 Nov 2009
On October 19, 2009, 49-year-old Pedro Juan Tavarez died in a Boston hospital while in ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) custody. While he was working as a taxi driver in Providence last year, law enforcement stopped the Dominican man for speeding. Record checks found ‘discrepancies’ related to federal immigration violations and he was brought to Suffolk County House of Corrections, alternately known as South Bay, for detention.
Unlike in other parts of the country, ICE doesn’t maintain federal detention facilities in New England. For New England residents guilty of beginning life outside U.S. borders, ICE contracts cages from an array of sources that include private prisons, city and county jails, military facilities, and even a Ramada Inn in East Boston. Most immigrants detained in Massachusetts are kept at South Bay, which is right off Mass. Ave. headed into Dorchester. Responsible for 263 ICE detainees as of December 2008, Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral has called her ICE contract ‘a lifesaver for my budget.’

At this writing, the details surrounding Tavarez’ medical condition and (mal)treatment are hazy, with his 23 year old daughter telling the Providence Journal, ‘It doesn’t make sense.’ Other men with whom he was imprisoned were clear. ‘La Migra - They Kill Him,’ read signs they pressed against the barred windows of the wing at South Bay where ICE detainees are held. ‘Tavarez - My Friend - Good Man’ was visible in another window. ‘Tavarez - RIP’ from another. The Massachusetts Resist the Raids Network called for a Stand Out/Speak Out at the facility on Sunday October 25th to ‘express our feelings of solidarity with the prisoners held in there, and our sadness and outrage for the death of one more unnecessary prisoner.’ Several dozen people marched and chanted around the facility and up to the highway overpass to be visible to the detainees in the ICE wing, who pressed their ICE issued clothing to the windows. One of the more sobering points of the event was when a seemingly endless list of names was read over the bullhorn, names of people who have died in ICE detention in conditions ranging from the horrible to the surreally inhuman [google Hiu Lui Ng if you want to cry and throw up at the same time]. After each name was read, everyone assembled yelled, ‘¡Presente!’ They are not forgotten.

Tavarez is added to the list of deaths in ICE custody, and also to the list of prisoner deaths in Massachusetts, which features the alarming statistic of having prisoners kill themselves at a rate three times the the national average. Investigations fail to keep the bodies from falling.

Critiques of the situation from politically connected immigrant rights organizations revolve around ICE’s use of jails and prisons, upset that immigrants are treated as ‘criminals,’ and that this is the cause of their neglect and death. What is painfully missing from these critiques is the fact that anyone is treated as a ‘criminal,’ that anyone is being held in facilities under the supervision of unbalanced, power-hungry, micromanaging individuals with guns and badges who are not actuated by concern for the life, health, and dignity of those under their watch—individuals whom we are taught to fear less than those they imprison, incidentally. Missing from these critiques is how immigration detention is increasingly entangled in the prison industrial complex, defined by Julia Sudbury as ‘a symbiotic and profitable relationship between politicians, corporations, the media and state correctional institutions that generates the racialized use of incarceration as a response to social problems rooted in the globalization of capital.’

Marching around the facility, engaging with the fists and faces behind bars, I strained to read the signs held up, though no strain was necessary to read FREE US, a sign laboriously constructed out of numerous sheets of paper as we watched. Alternately waving, maintaining eye contact, and pumping our fists, it was clear, to me at least, that the folks locked up in South Bay are separated in their immediate predicament only by the wings of the building they’re held in and distinguished only by the color of their issued clothing. My heart breaks for every woman and man incarcerated in facilities designed to break their spirits, bodies, and minds. Cages have no place in a society that calls itself free. Surely, none of us will be free until we are all free.

For a world without prisons!

This article originally appeared in the November 2009 BAAM Newsletter.

This work is in the public domain.
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