Protest against immigrant detention center draws 150 in Farmville

Demonstrators marched down Third Street in Farmville yesterday in opposition of plans to build a detention center for illegal immigrants.

SLIDESHOW: Rally and march in Farmville against privately-run immigrant detention center slated to open in June.

FARMVILLE -- About 150 people gathered in Farmville yesterday to protest plans to build a privately run detention center for illegal immigrants.

Immigration activists and organizations from across the state descended on the town to hear speakers and music before holding a meandering late afternoon march from Riverside Park, where they gathered, to Town Hall.

"We are here to say no to the construction of this new detention center," Gaudenzio Fernandez, an immigration activist from Manassas told the crowd. "We should all come together."

While opponents hope to derail plans for the proposed 1,040-bed detention facility, Town Manager Gerald J. Spates has said efforts to build the facility are on track, with the site cleared and the permits obtained.

The contract to operate the facility will be between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the town. A subcontractor, ICA-Farmville, will run the $21 million, 125,000-square-foot facility.

Town officials have said the center will provide 200 badly needed jobs and an $8.2 million payroll and generate $716,730 in taxes annually.

But opponents are using the late-November death of Guido Newbrough in the Piedmont Regional Jail's illegal-immigrant detention center to build sentiment against the project and campaign against the use of such facilities.

Jail officials say the death was from natural causes and had nothing to do with how Newbrough was treated or the care he received. The death is under investigation, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement has suspended sending detainees to the jail's detention center until the probe is complete. The falloff of detainees prompted the layoff of 50 employees at the jail.

Beatriz Amberman, founder of the Hispanic Community Dialogue Organization in Virginia Beach, called on President Barack Obama for comprehensive immigration reform.

"The solution is not to jail people who are working," she said.

Amberman, who is of Mexican descent, encouraged members of the crowd to contact their congressional representatives "and tell them we cannot wait one more year."

"We are the majority, believe it or not. We can do it. This is just the beginning."

Barry Carter, chairman of the Occoneechee-Saponi Indian tribe of Virginia, told the crowd that he and 20 members of his group were present to "support our brothers and sisters from South of the Rio Grande River."

Carter said there are no Latinos or Hispanics. "We are Native Americans," he said. "The sooner we can get the message out to ourselves, the sooner we can end this opposition."

Blacksburg resident Clark Webb said he has been working for peace and justice the past 40 years, including with Tennessee's civil-rights movement in the 1960s and with the Memphis sanitation strike in 1968. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was in Memphis to work with the strike when the civil-rights leader was assassinated.

Webb -- holding a sign declaring "No Detention Center!!! No More Deaths!!!" -- called the immigration issue one of the biggest confronting the country.

"We're a country of immigrants," he said. "Unless you're 100 percent Native American, your family came here. My family came here. . . . That's what makes our country great."

Signs called for "No prisons for profit" and to "Build Country, Not Prisons." Orange T-shirts were passed out saying "No Detentions! No new jail" in English and Spanish.

While the protest fell shy of the 300 participants that organizers had hoped for, it did draw people from across Virginia. Cameron Carter, a 24-year-old a Virginia Commonwealth University student, complained that it was unfair immigrants be detained.

Sister Christina Grace Malonzo and Brother Charles Warthen of two Catholic orders drove from Portsmouth.

"Taking people off the street because they are Hispanic or don't have papers just shouldn't be done," he said. "I don't think it's appropriate."

Contact Jamie C. Ruff at (434) 223-3678 or

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