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At N.H.’s ICE Detention Center, Protesters Decry ‘Sin’ Of Trump Immigration Policies

Annie Ropeik
Over an empty, makeshift coffin outside the state's only federal immigration detention center, faith leaders and other activists read the names of migrant children who have died recently at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Hundreds of people protested outside a federal immigration detention center in New Hampshire this weekend, after spending a week marching to the facility from across New England in a show of solidarity with migrants at the southern border.

The marchers arrived in a silent procession Saturday afternoon at the Strafford County Department of Corrections in Dover.

The prison serves as the only detention center for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Northern New England, and typically holds around 100 people from this region and elsewhere.

Protesters cried and screamed in grief, and sang in a show of support for the detainees inside the jail and others.

Credit Annie Ropeik / NHPR
Immigration protesters arrive on the access road to the Strafford County Department of Corrections after setting out from Concord and elsewhere days earlier.

On the grass outside the prison, a group of clergy held a kind of funeral service around an empty child-sized coffin, adorned with photos of migrant children and others who have died in ICE custody in recent months. 

As the names and stories of each were read aloud, the marchers repeated a traditional Jewish honorific for the dead: “May their memory be a blessing.”

March co-organizer Alexandra Piñeros-Shields said she wept as she carried that symbolic coffin during the march.

"If my children were in danger of dying hungry, without medical care, I would try to bring them into a land that they could have life,” she said. “And then to bring them to a place where they die in government detention – it just was so heart-wrenching to me that it gave me the stamina that I ... need to continue to do this battle."

Piñeros emigrated to the U.S. from Spain as a child. She now lives with her kids in Massachusetts, where she works with the Essex County Community Organization.

She said she sees cruelty and racism in how even long-standing immigration policies are being carried out under President Trump.

"As people of faith, we call that sin,” Piñeros said.

Her co-organizer Sarah Jane Knoy, of the Granite State Organizing Project, characterized recent immigration enforcement actions another way – as genocidal.

Credit Annie Ropeik / NHPR
Protesters held up signs like this one depicting immigrant children who have died in federal custody.

“People are being targeted because of their race and ethnicity, and they’re being jailed and taken from their families, and they’re dying because of the color of their skin,” Knoy said. “That’s not the America that we dreamed for.”

She said organizers invited all the presidential candidates from both parties to join the protest. A few were in New Hampshire over the weekend, but none attended.

Strafford County Corrections superintendent Chris Brackett said in an interview Monday that he supplied tents, water and portable toilets for this weekend’s protesters at his facility.

“I understand the symbolism of them coming [here],” he said. “Their message is something that garners national discussion, and we’re not going to try to do anything to stifle that.”

The jail began contracting with ICE to detain immigrants in 2008, predating the start of Brackett's time as the facility’s superintendent.

An estimated 70% of ICE detainees are held in private prisons, with the rest held in public prisons. Together, ICE and Customs and Border Protection report having more than 55,000 people in detention as of this month. 

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.

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