Outside the Story County Justice Center, emotions spanning anger, grief and optimism were in full force on Friday night at the Story County Democrats’ Light For Liberty event, a candlelight vigil to shine a light on conditions in detention centers used by President Donald Trump’s administration to house undocumented immigrants.
“People are angry. They are upset. They are sickened by the conditions these families and children are being forced to endure,” Jessica Fears, the event’s organizer, told the Tribune. “I’ve been called a painful optimist, and there is pain all around this situation, but seeing the response from everyone here tonight, gives me hope.”
Friday night’s protest was a response to the reports that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have scheduled raids on Sunday aimed at detaining and deporting thousands of people accused of remaining illegally within the United States.
Immigration reform advocates said that communities around Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and San Francisco were being targeted by raids, expected to start Sunday and last through at least today.
The raids are different from routine Immigration and Customs Enforcement detentions, and protesters said the raids appear designed to sow terror and discord among the approximately 2,000 families expected to be targeted, especially in light of news reports of some detainees dying in custody.
In between the reading of testimonies from inmates of the detention camps and open calls for local action, Story County Supervisors Linda Murken and Lauris Olson addressed the crowd of protesters.
Olson spoke to provide context for the county’s working agreement with ICE, via an extension of the Story County jail’s U.S. Marshal’s Service contract.
The U.S. Marshals Service alone contracts with 1,800 state and local governments to rent jail space, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement detains thousands at local prisons across the county.
The contract is an extension of the county’s agreement with U.S. Marshals, and ICE issues a detainer when they suspect a person who has been booked into a county jail may be in the country illegally.
The detainer asks the county jail to hold the person in custody for 48 hours while ICE decides whether or not to pursue immigration proceedings. The detainers do not include weekends or holidays, so a person could potentially be held for longer than 48 hours.
Story County did honor ICE detainers up until a few years ago, when Story County Sheriff Paul Fitzgerald issued an order that Story County would no longer comply with the requests without a warrant, and the Story County Jail currently does not accept inmates that have not been seen by a judge.
In 2017, the Board of Supervisors extended the contract, but Olson said she would have never extended the contract with ICE years ago “if she knew then what she knows now.” However, she noted that Story County Jail conditions are not representative of the squalid conditions of the detention camps.
However, protesters pressed the supervisors to provide detail on the familial status of the 12 inmates currently housed in the Story County Jail, information Olson said the county officials aren’t privy to. Murken said she would entertain the option of reviewing the contract.
Other speakers, such as Santos Nunez, refocused energy and efforts to protecting and ensuring a helpline for local immigrant communities.
“ICE agents are raiding and targeting places of employments, certain communities, and there is a sense of fear for many immigrants who feel they could be split from their families and stuck in these detention camps,” Nunez said to the Tribune. “We need to reach out and not only find avenues to protect their rights and their livelihood, but also commit ourselves to not be silent in response to these raids.”
Jamet Colton, a Chilean immigrant and current Ames school board member, said she was overwhelmed by a mixture of emotions at Friday night’s vigil.
“Something has to be done. If the images that we are seeing, the things we are hearing, and most importantly, the stories that have been shared don’t hit you — then I don’t know what else will necessitate a much-needed change,” Colton said.