By Gabriela Flora and Jordan Garcia
This Valentine's Day, AFSC is delivering over a thousand Valentine's Day cards made by Denver area community members—volunteers, school children, faith groups, book clubs, and individuals—to people detained at the for-profit GEO immigration detention center. We've done this every February for the past eight years.
This year, the task was larger because GEO has nearly tripled the number of people they detain—mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, and others who are part of our communities.
This month also marked AFSC’s eighth year of holding vigils in front of the GEO facility. We hold vigils to stand in witness and solidarity with those inside these walls, to raise awareness of this detention center in this community, and to ultimately defeat the practice of profiting from pain.
Every February, the theme for our monthly vigil is "Love Knows No Border, No Walls, and No Bans" (the last part we added this year in response to President Trump’s Muslim ban executive order). This year's vigil drew over 150 community members last week.
Josh Stallings, a member of AFSC’s ally group Coloradan’s for Immigrant Rights, shared his reflections on that evening:
"We gathered in the brisk night air outside of the GEO immigrant detention center. Our group consisted of immigrants formerly detained at GEO and immigrants currently fighting for legal status, longtime activists in Denver's immigrant rights community, first-timers who have been supporting the immigrant community from a distance, and folks who are just learning about what it means to be an immigrant in the U.S. and to deal with a system that seems intent on criminalizing individuals and dividing families.
We listened to the stories of community members who are struggling to gain legal status in our broken system. Our hearts were broken, and we were angered by all that's going on in this sometimes chaotic world.
But, we also found joy in this moment. People of all backgrounds, nationalities, races, and social classes had gathered to note the injustice in our world, and dream of a more just and loving world. In the midst of the brokenness around us, we joined our voices together and cried out "Dáme un corazón más grande para amar. ... Más fuerte para luchar. (Give me a bigger heart to love. ... A stronger heart to fight)."
We were reminded that love is a radical act, and is just what we need in this time."
One of the many powerful moments of the vigil was when 12-year-old Luna Baez Vizguerra read a letter about why she believes her mother—Jeanette Vizguerra,who has been fighting her deportation for eight years—should remain with her family.
In November, Jeanette applied for a fifth stay of removal but has yet to hear an answer from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Jeanette is a powerful community leader who has helped countless numbers of other folks facing deportation while engaging her community to support her in remaining where she belongs.
Here’s the letter that Luna read:
"I believe my mother, Jeanette Vizguerra, should be allowed to stay here. … She is just in general a great mother. She does whatever it takes for my siblings and I to be safe, well-fed, well-clothed, to have a roof over our heads. She works endlessly to give us our basic needs. She helps her community as much as she can. … My grades and my siblings are better when she is nearby.
Personally, I don't know where we’d be in life without her. She helps us get through whatever we are facing and defends us no matter what the circumstances are. I love my mother with all my heart and wish for her to stay with her family and community as long as she can."
This Valentine's Day, it is more important than ever to stand against hateful rhetoric, practices, and policies that tear our families and communities apart. We must work to end corporations profiting from pain. We invite you to engage in putting forth visions and policy demands for cities, schools, and communities that support all our members and build on the gifts that immigrants and refugees bring to our communities.
One way to do this is to visit AFSC’s #SanctuaryEverywhere website. There you can access tools that anyone can use to create safer spaces for all people—in our schools, congregations, cities, and throughout our communities.
Gabriela Flora is the program director of AFSC's Colorado Immigrant Rights Program. Jordan Garcia is the AFSC immigrant organizing director in Colorado.