A vigil held outside the Oklahoma County Jail Friday evening was organized to draw attention to U.S. Immigration and Customs (ICE) officers now stationed at the jail on a full-time basis.
The action across from the jail at 201 N. Shartel, was called “OKC Lights for Liberty,” one of five similar and simultaneous vigils held in Lawton, Norman, Oklahoma City, Stillwater, and Tulsa. The Oklahoma vigils were held in conjunction with Lights for Liberty vigils nation-wide.
One speaker, activist Sara Bana, referred to the jail as “one of the most brutal institutions across the entire state of Oklahoma.”
“As an American citizen, I am responsible for what happens in my backyard, I am responsible for what happens at the Oklahoma County Jail.”
Another speaker who was brought into the U.S. as a child, Cynthia Garcia, referred to the current camps where ICE is detaining people who have come to the U.S. to declare asylum as “concentration camps.”
“There’s too many things happening in this country that are not just affecting today, but are affecting tomorrow,” said Garcia.
The group that organized the local event, Just Future, is now circulating a petition that reads:
*We call on the OK County Jail Trust and Sheriff PD Taylor to immediately remove the ICE agents that are continually on duty there, where they screen people at intake for citizenship and residency documents, identifying those who cannot produce documents and ultimately pipelining people into detention camps where they will be subjected to brutal treatment and denied due process.
We further demand that OK County refuse to collaborate in any way with ICE, now or in the future, including service contracts or collaborative agreements.*
Rena Guay with Just Future organized the event.
“We are very much against ICE having a collaborative relationship with any local law enforcement,” said Guay.
The Oklahoma City Police Department declared several years ago that they would not participate with federal agents in their efforts to apprehend illegal immigrants citing the mistrust such actions would create between the department and residents of the city.
But, the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s office has had a less certain history of involvement, calling ICE agents in when the jail had prisoners they suspected of illegal entry to the U.S.
Sherriff’s spokesperson Mark Meyers confirmed to Free Press earlier Friday that in the last “three to four years” ICE agents have been stationed at the jail full-time to identify persons brought in for booking who are suspected of being in the U.S. illegally.
“If they have state sentences to serve in the jail, then ICE typically doesn’t intervene,” said Meyers. “But, if someone suspected is about to be released on bail or an own-recognizance (OR) bond, then ICE officers will detain them.”
Some who were a part of the vigil considered the ICE agents at the jail as a small local part of a larger national problem of how people seeking asylum are being treated as they are held in detention facilities the group calls concentration camps.
Bill Bryant, with the Oklahoma City chapter of the United Nations Association, read a statement by Alejandra Muller, president of the group.
“Our time to act is now to denounce these actions, to defend our communities by protesting the incorporation of these camps and ICE raids,” the statement read.
“We ask of you to not look away and not be desensitized,” the statement said at another point.
Speakers encouraged the gathering to plan on going to Lawton July 20 for a rally to push for closure of the camps.
People in OKC can join others at 8 a.m. July 20 at 3000 United Founders Boulevard for breakfast and to board a bus at 8:45 a.m. to Lawton where they will join the rally starting there at 10 a.m.