Charges dropped in immigration detention protest

Anabaptist community leader galvanizes opposition to prison for immigrants

May 7, 2015 by and

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LUMPKIN, Ga. — A judge in Georgia on April 9 dropped charges against a group of immigrant-rights activists, including the leader of an Anabaptist community.

Anton Flores-Maisonet, right, leads the Nov. 22 march and vigil to Stewart Detention Center, where the “Stewart Five” were arrested. — Steve Pavey/MC USA

Anton Flores-Maisonet, right, leads the Nov. 22 march and vigil to Stewart Detention Center, where the “Stewart Five” were arrested. — Steve Pavey/MC USA

At the culmination of a Nov. 22 vigil, five protesters engaged in an act of civil disobedience at Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, a for-profit facility that holds up to 1,750 immigrants for deportation proceedings.

The five were Kevin Caron, Maureen Fitzsimons, Anton Flores-Maisonet, Rebecca Kanner and Jason McGaughey.

Georgia State Patrol officers and sheriff’s deputies arrested the “Stewart Five” after they peacefully attempted to cross onto the property owned by Corrections Corporation of America to approach the prison fence to pray.

“As a Christ follower, I had to decide whether to obey Immigration and Customs Enforcement and CCA or obey God,” said Anton Flores-Maisonet, founding member of the Alterna Community in LaGrange, a bilingual Anabaptist community of Christ-followers devoted to faithful acts of hospitality, mercy and justice.

He also serves on Mennonite Church USA’s Interchurch Relations Reference Group and co-chairs the Beloved Community Council of Discovering Opportunities for Outreach and Reflection, a ministry of Mennonite Mission Network.

“Like Peter and John in Acts 4, I chose obedience to God because I could not ‘keep from speaking about what I have seen and heard,’ ” said Flores-Maisonet, who will present a workshop at this summer’s MC USA convention in Kansas City. “Since 2007 I have seen and heard too much about Stewart Detention Center that breaks the heart of God.”

The “Stewart Five” after their April 9 court appearance for civil disobedience calling to shut down Stewart Detention Center. From left, Anton Flores-Maisonet, Kevin Caron, Jason McGaughey, Rebecca Kanner, and Maureen Fitzsimons. — Steve Pavey/MC USA

The “Stewart Five” after their April 9 court appearance for civil disobedience calling to shut down Stewart Detention Center. From left, Anton Flores-Maisonet, Kevin Caron, Jason McGaughey, Rebecca Kanner, and Maureen Fitzsimons. — Steve Pavey/MC USA

In court, the judge dropped all charges against the five activists without hearing testimony. They had faced up to 12 months in prison and a fine of up to $1,000.

Growing movement

The movement to shut down Stewart Detention Center continues to grow largely because of the leadership of Flores-Maisonet, who also co-founded El Refugio, a place of refuge for the family and friends of those detained at the immigration detention center.

The extensive record of abuse, neglect and death of migrants at Stewart Detention Center has been documented in “Prisoners of Profit,” a 2012 report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia. The Detention Watch Network lists Stewart Detention Center as one of the 10 worst immigration prisons in the U.S.

Azadeh Shahshahani, a lawyer and activist, wrote in a November article for The Hill that the abuse of human rights continues.

“This treatment is inhumane, un-American, and, do recall, it is also for profit,” Shahshahani wrote. “The time has come for the Obama administration and ICE to shut Stewart down and for this painful chapter in the American treatment of immigrants to close.”

The ninth annual Shut Down Stewart vigil will be held Nov. 21, the same weekend as the nearby School of Americas Watch vigil. Roy Bourgeois, SOA Watch founder, attended the trial of the “Stewart Five” to show his support and make the connections between unjust U.S. foreign policies and the buildup of the U.S. immigration industrial complex focused on detention and deportation.

“It is all about solidarity and that all-important question: What are we going to do to express our love, support and solidarity with so many of our [immigrant] sisters and brothers?” Bourgeois said.


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