Under the pavilion at Phil Baux Park on Friday evening, Anne Newcomb was working on her first of five letters to state leaders who might have the last say on whether a private immigration prison will be built about three and a half hours south of here.
“We need to support our undocumented neighbors in every way we can,” Newcomb said. “Private prisons are a travesty.”
Newcomb and about 30 other Teton County residents gathered to show solidarity with other communities in Wyoming that are fighting the private immigration prison, proposed by Management and Training Corporation.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Wyoming launched the coalition #WyoSayNo to stop the prison’s construction in Uinta County.
“The county commission in Uinta County has approved the proposal from MTC for the private prison, but it needs the approval of five state officials,” said Jordan Rich, a volunteer with ACLU. “We are writing letters asking them, for multiple reasons, not to support this.”
With the help of supporting organizations like People Spread Love and Juntos, the ACLU is hosting letter-writing protests with Fiesta de Familias gatherings all over the state.
“The past few months we have seen a dramatic increase in family separations, detentions, and a growing array of human rights [violations] perpetrated by ICE across the country and in Wyoming,” said Sabrina King, policy director for the ACLU of Wyoming. “We have an opportunity here to be part of the movement saying no to family separations and the inhumane private immigration detention system.”
Newcomb, a Teton County resident since 1963, said she’s tired of watching her immigrant neighbors live in fear.
“We have an obligation to speak up,” Newcomb said. “These are hardworking kind of people, for heaven’s sake.”
The Evanston City Council and Uinta County commissioners passed resolutions last year favoring the for-profit prison, with the idea that it will bring jobs.
Management and Training Corporation plans to build and manage the detention center in an undisclosed area in Uinta County, Issa Arnita, director of corporate communications, previously told the News&Guide.
The idea is to build it close enough to Salt Lake City so there’s a place to detain undocumented immigrants while they await court hearings.
“We need an easy path to legalization and eventual citizenship,” Newcomb said. “It is not right for people who are just going about their business to get hauled off willy-nilly for no reason. It is not right for people to make money off other people’s misery.”
Someone might be held at the facility as a “civil detainee” for illegal reentry, for example.
But activists believe the private prison will hurt Wyoming immigrants, especially in communities like Jackson that have large populations from Mexico and elsewhere.
“We have such a large immigrant community here,” Rich said. “It’s a very personal fight for us.”
Another Fiesta de Familias will be held this Saturday in Evanston at Hamblin Park’s shelter 3 from 5 to 7 p.m.