Noisemakers rattled and bullhorns flared as 200 people marched on April 8 toward West County Detention Facility in Richmond, an operating facility of Northern California’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Detention Center. Individuals of all ages and faiths stand alongside one another holding signs that state in bold, yellow writing: “Let Our People Go.”

These marchers have made their statement every second Sunday of the month for the past year.

Let Our People Go is a multi-faith organizing project founded in April 2017 that highlights the injustices faced by detainees in the immigration detention system. It is organized by the Kehilla Community Synagogue Immigration Committee (KCSIC) and inspired by the vigils held by the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity.

“Being there opens your eyes to the injustice of it all, seeing people who many family members are undocumented and they are doing the bravest thing imaginable, just walking into the jail,” said Sam Davis, a member of the KCSIC.

For the past three months, Your Allied Rapid Response (YARR), a resistance group that supports the Santa Cruz undocumented community, has joined the masses in solidarity with Let Our People Go. YARR works to strengthen support for undocumented communities and oppose institutional oppression, said YARR organizer Vicki Winters.

After reading an article about the conditions in which Richmond detainees were being held, Joy Parker, YARR’s treasurer, was inspired to participate in Let Our People Go.

The article Parker is referring to, published in the SF Gate in December 2017, exposes conditions of the Northern California ICE Detention Center in Richmond so deplorable that detainees requested deportation. Female detainees were held without toilets in their cells and had to ask guards to let them out to use the toilets. When asking for permission they were told to “hold it’” or use a plastic bag.

“[Let Our People Go] is not only trying to bring awareness to the plight of immigrant detainees in Richmond, but the general population,” Sam Davis said.    

The U.S. is the world’s largest operator of immigration detention systems with over 143,000 administrative arrests made by ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations officers in 2017. This was the highest number of administrative arrests made in the past three years, according to the official ICE website.

Detainees are not allowed the right to a free professional attorney because deportation is classified as a civil sanction, so detainees are not given legal representation like criminal defendants. Accessing legal representation for detained immigrants is difficult because they are forced to seek affordable counsel from behind bars.

As a result of the Supreme Court’s decision in Jennings v. Rodriguez this past February, which eliminated detainees’ right to a guaranteed bond hearing if held in detention for more than six months, detainees can now be held in facilities for more than a year without ever seeing the inside of a courtroom.   

“I am hoping that this ongoing protest will raise awareness of what is happening in our community,” said YARR treasurer Joy Parker. “And that, once informed, the people will demand that these detention centers be shut down and that these violations of human rights stop.”