Immigration Activists To Rally At York County Prison

100s to rally at prison

Police say they'll be ready for immigration activists

York Dispatch/Sunday News

Officials in Springettsbury Township are preparing for a rally in October being planned by a mix of anarchists, Communists and anti-racist activists, who plan to converge on York County Prison to protest the detention of immigrants after Sept. 11.

The group, calling itself the October 18th Coalition for Human Rights, has posted an announcement on several anarchist Web sites for people to attend "a mass event to create nationwide attention concerning the secret arrests and detentions of immigrants in this new climate of increased repression and attacks on civil liberties."

York County Prison is one of the largest detention centers in the country for the Department of Homeland Security's Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Among its 800 detainees are many immigrants rounded up in sweeps after Sept. 11.

The announcement says the group will gather at Springettsbury Park Oct. 18, rally at the prison at 1 p.m. and then march to the nearby Caterpillar Distribution Plant to protest that company's "continuing support for Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine."

York anarchist: Organizer Keith Dobson, 31, an anarchist from York, said Friday he is expecting hundreds to attend the rally, most of them from outside York.

"It's been done in New York. It's been done in Philadelphia. It's been done in Baltimore," he said. "We wanted to do it in an area that normally doesn't experience this type of demonstration and activity."

Dobson said the Oct. 18 event will be peaceful and not "direct action" -- the smashing of windows and other violence that characterized the Seattle protest.

"This is just going to be a legal march, a peaceful march. If there's any violence, it will come from the police," he said. "We're very peaceful people."

He said he has applied for a permit from the township and has spoken with police about the event.

Township police, meanwhile, say they are taking no chances.

"Knowing the track record of anarchists, we want to be careful, we want to be ready," said Lt. Tim Harvey of Springettsbury Township Police.

Anarchist groups were largely responsible for the chaos outside the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in 1999 and, closer to home, in York in 2001 when white supremacist Matt Hale gave a speech at Martin Library. There were 25 arrests, most of them anarchists and anti-racist activists who came from out-of-town to oppose Hale and his supporters.

Harvey said township police, working with Pennsylvania State Police and other local departments, will determine how to respond, using experience from the 2001 rally. He declined to discuss specifics.

"We have to protect their Constitutional rights and weigh that against public safety and public order," he said. "That's not easily done."

Multiple issues: The announcement says the group will be calling for the release of names of all the detainees, an end to solitary confinement and "physical and psychological abuse" of prisoners and the release of all prisoners being held at York County Prison and Guantanamo Bay.

"Instead of holding them indefinitely, without charges, either deport them or release them," Dobson said.

Some of the detainees' families have raised concerns about their treatment, too. Last week, relatives of Munir Lami, a Palestinian held at the prison, blasted federal officials for deporting him without notifying the family. Supporters of another Palestinian at the prison, Farouk Abdel-Muhti, claim the government has been holding him longer than federal standards permit.

The Oct. 18 protesters also say Caterpillar is responsible for the manufacture of armored bulldozers sold to the Israeli Defense Force, which uses them to "demolish homes of families thought to be associated with Palestinian militants."

"They're making a profit off people's misery," Dobson said.

They also chose Caterpillar, which closed its manufacturing operation here in the 1990s after a prolonged labor dispute, eliminating 4,000 jobs, "in solidarity with past and current workers' struggles at this Caterpillar plant."

The announcement lists 16 organizations, ranging from York Anti-Racist Action to the Northeast Branch Group Anarchist Black Cross Federation to the Anarcho-Communist Union of Philadelphia, as endorsing the rally.

Some local immigration activists, meanwhile, say they have mixed feelings about such a rally here.

Kathleen Lucas is executive director of the Coalition for Immigrants' Rights at the Community Level (CIRCLE), a local volunteer group that assists immigrants and their families.

She agrees with the concern about immigrants being detained in prisons, but suggested the York County Prison may not be the best venue to protest that.

"I think that, while a prison is not an appropriate place to put an asylum seeker, I don't think York County Prison is this huge violator of human rights the way they make it out to be," Lucas said.

Plus, she said the issues of the protest are so varied the message could become "garbled."

Lucas said she doesn't need to protest, because she is in the prison frequently to meet with the detainees, and when there is concern prison officials return her calls.

She suggested the protest might be more effective if it was at the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement bureau headquarters in Philadelphia, where the decision-makers are and where there would be more media attention.