On Saturday, some 125 people gathered outside Richmond’s West County Detention Facility, just as they have every month for the past seven years.
They came with friends and family and loved ones. They came to listen to Rev. Deborah Lee speak about hope and faith for the undocumented immigrants kept in detention centers just like this one all over the country. They came to hear Hugo Aguilar speak about his experience behind these very walls, and to hear his daughter, Hulissa Aguilar, thank those who helped raise the $80,000 bond to get him out.
They came to acknowledge the end of an era for these gatherings, which have steadily grown since the very first one was organized by Oakland’s Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity on April 20, 2011 — when 15 people came to show support for those forcibly taken from their families as they awaited prosecution for being in the United States illegally.
“I feel like we’ve been successful,” said Lee, executive director of the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity. “I’m happy finally.”
The decision to end the monthly vigils came after Contra Costa County officials announced in July they were severing the county’s contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. For eight years, the detention center has housed hundreds of detainees for ICE. The vigils were organized as a way to bring attention to that fact, Lee said.
“We were like, ‘How can we start to draw attention to this trend,’” she said. “This really disturbing trend that was happening behind walls. You didn’t know who was getting detained — it was like, ‘Who are these people?’”
Among those held at the Richmond facility was Fernando Carrillo, who was detained by ICE officials while dropping his then 4-year-old daughter off at a San Jose daycare in October 2017. He was held for six months, before being released to his family in April.
His wife, Lourdes Barraza, was on her way into the detention facility to visit him in November when she noticed the group of about 40 people outside its walls. She decided to walk up and introduce herself.
“I felt relief,” she said. “I felt a sense of support. I felt like we weren’t alone anymore in this. I don’t know how I would have gotten through without them.”
Now, with her husband released, and as an organizer with the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, Barraza views Saturday’s final vigil as bittersweet.
“That we have some victories to show for our hard work means so much,” she said. “It’s a sense of satisfaction on one end, but I also feel that like, what else can we do now? We still have families that are separated.”