BOSTON, MA (2/26/2017) – More than sixty musicians, activists, and supporters convened today at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Suffolk County Immigration Detention Justice Center in a display of solidarity with immigrants detained at the County Jail. Following executive orders from the Trump administration, ICE raids have occurred across the United States for all undocumented individuals, overturning the Obama administration’s focus on violent criminals. The rally was organized by Resist the Raids, a grassroots coalition challenging U.S. immigration law and its dehumanizing impact on immigrants. Musicians of all ages and talents in the Boston Area Brigade of Activist Musicians (BABAM!) represented the Second Line Social Aid and Pleasure Society Brass Band, the School of HONK, the Jamaica Plain Honk Bank, and the Leftist Marching Band, making the trip from Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
Activists blared horns, woodwinds, and drumlines in harmony onto the pedestrian overpass bridge, facing the Suffolk Immigration Detention Justice Center. Located on the outskirts of South Boston where the New Market industrial park meets Interstate 93, the Center is a drab, multi-story building and could be easily missed if not for its distinguishing feature: barred windows. The ICE has an agreement with the the Suffolk County Jail, which houses as many 1,900 detainees. Approximately 250 are immigration detainees who are in removal proceedings or are awaiting deportation.
Some 210,000 unauthorized immigrants lived in Massachusetts as of 2014, according to a September report by the Pew Research Center. Secret ICE raids in cities such as Los Angeles, New York City, Santa Cruz quickly gained attention, yet New England ICE officials stated they are not conducting similar operations here. Nevertheless, WBUR recently reported that Trump’s executive orders on immigration could exacerbate Boston’s immigration court. There are nearly 16,000 cases pending in court, the ninth-largest backlog in the country, with the average wait time almost two years per case. As immigrants are apprehended unscrupulously, it is unknown if the Suffolk Center will be able to accommodate a significant increase in detainees.
“We are sending a message to immigrants that we got your back. We are here in solidarity. We will work with immigrants and their families to secure immigration lawyers,” announced Resist the Raids organizer Lily Huang on a megaphone. “Everytime we hear from detainees, they talk about how uplifting this is. Thank you for showing up.”
Resist the Raids is a volunteer network comprised of about ten organizers and activists from other groups, coalescing around support for immigrants facing deportation. Their resource line is available for immigrant families to share their cases, to initiate a protest campaign to stop deportation, and to connect immigration lawyers.
“Before, it was easier for us to stop the deportation process for immigrants, even though Obama deported the highest number. That’s over now. This new administration doesn’t care about its reputation,” stated Huang.
Juan Vasquez of Resist the Raids explained that this wasn’t the first musical rally outside the Immigration Detention Center. “It’s always a peaceful protest. The police know we’re here outside the center and they allow it,” he said. “They constructed a fence in front of the entrance though, and it’s a new policy that we can’t be too close.”
Activists chanted, held signs of support, and waved vigorously from the foot bridge towards the Center. Detained individuals, including what appeared to be several youth, came to the window and waved back. They placed signs in the window, and one room interchanged cutout letters to send several messages. This reporter felt a wave of sadness and shame upon seeing: “We <3 USA”.
For over an hour, musician activists played spirited songs in English and Spanish, including “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “La Misma Cancion”. The lyrics questioned why, if we are all part of the same earth, are politicians and police protecting us?
When asked if musicians were volunteers or a paid ensemble, Second Line trombonist John laughed, “Why of course, we’re all paid $1,000 each by the Democrats! But actually, we are all volunteers who lend our music for these types of events. We performed at the Women’s March in January.”
According to the Second Line website, the ensemble “combines music with social action, slamming out the sounds of the legendary Crescent City [New Orleans] for peace rallies, street festivals, parades, and benefits.” BABAM!, a collaborative meta-band formed to unify individual bands for community action events, organized today’s network of activist musicians. The powerful harmonies provided a sense of hope and determination for activists.
“Playing at this Immigration Detention Center is actually familiar for many of us,” John explained. “We’ve been performing here the last three to four years during the HONK! Festival of Activist Brass Bands.”
As raids and deportations by ICE unfold across the United States, groups such as Resist the Raids are firmly rooted in advocacy and action for Boston’s immigrants. They ask for your support by joining their email list, showing up to actions, and using your skills to join a rapid response network in neighborhoods, ensuring that immigrants know their rights in case of a raid.
To learn about Resist the Raids and join their growing network of rapid response teams, visit their Facebook page.
This post was updated on 2/27/17 to include information about the Boston Area Brigade of Activist Musicians (BABAM!).