Chants of “Si, se puede!” (“Yes, we can!”) changed to “Si, se pudo!” (“Yes, we could!”) on January 27, when over 300 members of the Elkhart County community gathered at College Mennonite Church. The occasion was in celebration of CoreCivic’s Monday decision to withdraw its proposal to build immigration detention center in Elkhart.
The evening’s program included an audience sing-along of the original song “Queremos Paz” (We Want Peace) and speeches from community members involved in the events leading up to the CoreCivic decision. Translator headsets were provided for Spanish speaking attendees.
Lisa Koop, Associate Director of Legal Services for the National Immigrant Justice Center expressed her pride in the “overwhelming strength” of the community’s response.
“At the first word [about CoreCivic’s proposal], you all educated yourselves, and you mobilized,” Koop said. “There were so many of you at [the first rally], and we realized- we might actually be able to beat this thing!”
Richard Aguirre, Marbella Chavez and Marilyn Torres, the founders and leaders of the Coalition Against the Immigration Detention Center, spoke of the significance of the victory for the Elkhart community and beyond, addressing the question posed by Chavez: “Where do we go from here?”
Chavez gave an emotional speech outlining the process of the battle against CoreCivic, expressed her gratitude to its participants, and described some ideas for how the Coalition will continue to be active in Elkhart County and beyond, including an effort to help Dreamers on their path to US citizenship.
At the celebration, $862 was raised for the Coalition, partly to help Dreamers afford the fees required for the application process.
Chavez ended with a plea for the energy built in the effort of this campaign be kept alive, asking those listening to continue “to support the marginalized, to show up to events that help give voice to the vulnerable, because… la lucha sigue (the fight continues).”
Aguirre talked about the significance of the victory both locally and nationally, noting that Elkhart is “the first community [in the country] that voted for Donald Trump in the presidential election to have rejected an immigration detention facility.”
He concluded, “While this was a challenging, tiring fight, I believe we’re united and energized, and will continue to do the good work of helping those in our community who need our help now.”
Evan Miller, CEO of Hertzler Systems, GC President Rebecca Stoltzfus, and Marty Lehman, pastor at College Mennonite Church also spoke.
Following the speeches, the audience listened to and sang along with a recording of “Queremos Paz,” a song composed for the movement by Goshen College professor Nayo Ulloa with lyrics by GC Dean of Students Gilberto Perez Jr.
To conclude the evening, a local group performed traditional folkloric dance to loud applause and whistles from the audience.
GC student Madeline Smith Kauffman described the event as “really educational – and uplifting. It really showed me how great a community Goshen is, how people are able to come together to do what’s best for everyone in the community.”
Those who wish to be involved with the Coalition as it continues to develop and take on new projects, can follow via their Facebook page “Coalition Against the Elkhart County Immigration Detention Center.”