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Six Harvard students—along with 14 other activists—were arrested Monday afternoon after they held a sit-in at the Suffolk County House of Corrections in protest of the detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants.
“So 30 people sat in for about an hour and a half, we had bands there playing in front of the detention facility, and then the police moved to arrest about 20 people,” said Kevin E. O’Donnell ’17, who participated in the protest and was arrested.
O’Donnell said he and other demonstrators spent about eight hours in jail before a bondsman set each individual’s bail at $40. All six Harvard students were able to pay their way out.
The six undergraduates—five of whom are members of the Student Labor Action Movement, a Harvard student activist group—and the other protesters were charged with disorderly conduct and trespassing. They appeared in Boston Municipal Court on Tuesday, according to Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office spokesperson Renee N. Algarin.
“In each case, the disorderly conduct charge was dismissed prior to arraignment and the trespassing charge was converted to a civil infraction, on which a responsible finding entered on the record and a fine of $50 was imposed,” Algarin wrote in an emailed statement Thursday.
“It was basically a parking ticket,” O’Donnell said of the court-imposed punishment.
Cosecha, a national immigrant rights group, organized the sit-in, as well as a march from Clifford Park in Roxbury to the detention center in Dorchester beforehand. Roughly 30 people marched, and 30 more joined the demonstrations by the correction facility, according to O’Donnell.
Cosecha organizers told The Boston Globe that the sit-in—which they said was among the biggest acts of civil disobedience nationwide since President Donald Trump’s inauguration—was intended to bring attention to an upcoming national immigrants’ strike, scheduled to take place May 1. Organizers across the United States staged a previous “Day Without Immigrants” in mid-February.
O’Donnell said he hoped the protest also sent a message to Massachusetts government officials.
“This was a call for Massachusetts to stop cooperating with [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] and deporting families and splitting people up,” he said.
In the months since Trump’s election, Cambridge has reaffirmed its status as a “sanctuary city” for undocumented immigrants, at times drawing fire from the federal government.
Harvard has also taken steps to support its undocumented population: administrators held a town hall with immigration experts in January, and University President Drew G. Faust has pledged to continue lobbying Congress to protect for undocumented students.
O’Donnell said his time in jail was “long and boring.” He said he and the other five Harvard students spent roughly two hours in a holding cell—where officials took their fingerprints and mugshots—before entering individual cells to wait for the bondsman.
O’Donnell said he thought the sit-in went well, calling it “one of many steps” towards achieving permanent protection for undocumented immigrants in the United States. But he said he found his time in prison sobering.
“There were lots of people in there who weren’t there by choice, so that’s a thing that I kept in mind while I was there,” he said. “We had the privilege to be able to take this risk and then get out okay, but there’s a lot of people who go through that system who do not.”
“It was a firm reminder of why we have so much work to do on both the immigration and the criminal justice front,” O’Donnell added.
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