CENTRAL FALLS, R.I. (WPRI) — Hundreds of people returned to the Wyatt Detention Facility Wednesday night to once again protest the prison’s partnership with immigration officials.
The prison has been under scrutiny for months after entering an agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to house detainees while they await trial. At last check, approximately 139 federal immigration detainees are currently being housed at Wyatt.
The protesters – who are part of a Jewish youth movement called “Never Again” – lined up outside the facility, holding hands and blocking off the entrance to the building.
The situation intensified several hours into the protest when demonstrators said a black pickup truck tried to barrel through a group that was blocking off one of the staff parking lots.
“Some of us were just standing on the side supporting what was going on trying to keep the truck from leaving the scene after they had really assaulted, with their vehicle, these people,” said protester Arthur Gleiner. “Several officers showed up and told everybody to back up and before anyone had a chance to move they sprayed pepper spray indiscriminately at a whole crowd of people.”
An Eyewitness News crew on scene also heard several people shouting that they were pepper-sprayed and saw several people being treated for pepper spray exposure. It appears at least one person was transported to the hospital.
This isn’t the first protest the group has held outside the facility. More than 200 people showed up last month, leading to the arrest of 18 people for blocking vehicles that were trying to access the facility. Among those arrested was Aaron Regunberg, a former state representative and lieutenant governor candidate.
Regunberg – who organized both protests – said they’re willing to do whatever it takes to get their message across.
“We’re back here again a month later from the last demonstration because we want to make it very clear: We are in this fight for the long haul,” he said. “We are not going to accept state silence, violence against our immigrant families and we are not going to allow local Rhode Island institutions like the Wyatt Detention Facility to continue partnering with ICE and perpetuating that violence.”
Several protesters expressed concern about the conditions the detainees are being kept in. A spokesperson from Wyatt tells Eyewitness News the conditions inside the facility are up to standard.
“As numerous audits and reviews show, Wyatt has been subjected to constant scrutiny and oversight and has been found to be operating well — providing safe, clean, and humanitarian conditions for its staff and detainees,” a spokesperson for the facility said in a statement. “The primary mission of the Wyatt is to securely and humanely house detainees sent to the facility by referring partner agencies including the USMS, ICE and the United States Navy. The Wyatt plays no role in the policies of the federal government.”