By Emily Guzman, U.S. citizen & wife of Pedro Guzman who was detained at SDC from November 2009 until May 2011. This is a reflection on the November 2010 vigil where eight individuals, including Emily’s mother and three members of Alterna were charged with criminal trespass for an act of civil disobedience.
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The morning of our planned vigil this past November, Anton and I went to meet with the Stewart County Sheriff. We wanted to talk to him about the civil disobedience we were planning. When I shared Pedro’s story with him, he was shocked Pedro had been detained for 14 months by then. He said that the facility was supposed to keep people for 60-90 days. We explained that we intended to do a prayer walk around the detention center but on its property. There would be no resisting of arrest and no property damage. It would be a nonviolent showing of solidarity and protest against injustice. We also had an opportunity to speak with the county’s judge. He was also shocked at Pedro’s case. Both the Sheriff and Judge were compassionate and felt sorry for the situation. I felt good that we were straight forward with them.
We arrived at the town square in Lumpkin and people were already starting to arrive. Approximately 100 people gathered. As people spoke of the injustices of the current immigration system and then songs were sung of a world with justice where all human beings are treated with respect, I cried. So many people were there that also believed that something is wrong with the current way people are treated. I looked around at the friendly and concerned faces.
We then began the 2 mile processional to Stewart Detention Center. Giant puppetistas, signs with Pedro and Logan’s picture, people with t-shirts saying “Bring Pedro Home”, banners, and kind hearted men, women and children filled the street. We started walking, chanting the names of those who have died in immigration detention centers throughout the US. After the more than 100 people’s names were called and the crowd replied “Presente,” Logan was offered a place on Anton’s shoulders and a megaphone. Logan began to chant “Bring Daddy Home” “Bring Daddy Home”. As the crowd heard our 4 year old little boy making this heartfelt plea, they repeated his words. I thought, “How empowering for Logan to hear the support of 100 people affirming the reunification of his family!” He and the crowd chanted until he was satisfied.
My mother suddenly appeared beside me and said, “Emily, what if I do it? What if I cross the line?” As tears rolled down my face, I replied, “Really Mom? You would do that?” I could not have made it through this year without her love and support but I never thought she would be willing to take such a strong stand. My mother is not a rule breaker. She is a kind, honest, loving, compassionate woman but most of all she is a law abiding citizen. I knew then that she was serious and she wanted to do everything in her power to see our family reunited. As I continued to cry, I hugged her. “I love you, Mom.” We continued the march, our arms around each other. We rounded the corner and Stewart Detention Center came into view. Many police officers, CCA guards, and other men in suits were on the other side of a barrier. I could feel the tension rising.
We stopped at the barricaded entrance, from there more words of solidarity and facts about the immigration system were given. Musicians sang songs of justice. Then I spoke of the pain this situation has caused my family. I spoke of the Stewart Detention Center and the injustices that are happening in the immigration system right now. I spoke of the Corrections Corporation of America taking advantage of the local, rural African-American community members as underpaid employees and immigrants that are brought to the detention center by force. As I looked up at the crowd, I saw that others were shedding tears along with me. They understood. They heard me. They felt my pain. I felt strength and energy from their empathy.
Anton then asked that those willing to participate in this act of civil disobedience come forward. Christin and Bryan Babcock, Anna Fisher, Mary Beth Gamba, Ellen McGill, and Jules Orkin joined Anton. My mom came over to me and hugged Logan and me and told us that she loved us. She approached the circle of the seven others that had chosen to stand up for our family and all the other immigrants that have been unjustly treated. I caught eyes with Christin who I had just met the night before. I began to cry. I looked at her and thought “There are people that will sacrifice their freedom for the freedom of others. There are people fighting for justice. I am not alone.” She saw my tears and began to cry too. The circle of eight people prayed together. As they walked towards the line that was guarded by police officers, I approached the microphone and said “My mother and seven courageous people
are crossing a line. They are crossing a line for justice.” As they walked towards the police officers, the musicians began to play and everyone began to sing, “We Shall Overcome.”
As my 54 year old mother broke the law intentionally for the first time in her life, along with seven brave people, she was handcuffed. My mother is so brave. She would not have done this if she had not witnessed the injustice and suffering we have experienced this past year. She had promised Logan that she would do everything in her power to bring his daddy home and she has. The eight who crossed the line were escorted, in handcuffs, to the back seats of squad cars.
Hours later we received a phone call that everyone would be released upon payment of a $250 bond per person. Almost half of the money was donated by the large group that was waiting in vigil outside the Sheriff’s office. People just pitched in their own money for the “The Stewart 8”. Amazing.
One by one, they were let go. I hugged every one of them and thanked them. Most of these people had never met us before. They did not know me, Pedro, or Logan. When they heard our story, they chose to risk their own freedom to fight for justice. They stood up for what they believed in with courage, strength and peace. They restored my faith in humanity. I am forever grateful to The Stewart 8.