Protesters chanted in the fountain area between Royal Palm Yacht & Country Club and
the Boca Raton Resort to protest George Zoley, president of the GEO Group.
Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star
By Dan Moffett
About a dozen human-rights activists protested outside the entrance to the Royal Palm Yacht & Country Club in Boca Raton on March 24 and voiced support for hundreds of unauthorized immigrants on hunger strikes at several privately run detention centers.
Why choose the yacht club for the demonstration? Because one of the residents there is George Zoley, president of GEO Group of Boca Raton, which operates eight detention centers for federal immigration officials in a half-dozen states.
“We want Zoley to stop retaliating against the hunger strikers and recognize this as a human-rights issue,” said Britni Hiatt, a Florida Atlantic University graduate student and one of the protest’s organizers. “We’re here to vocalize the injustice and stand with people who are being punished for no reason.”
The hunger strikes began in early March with about 700 detainees at the GEO-run Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Wash., and have provoked similar strikes and protests at facilities in at least two other states. The detainees want better conditions — better food, medical care and higher pay for work inside the centers — and also are calling on the government to change a federal deportation policy which they say breaks up immigrant families.
“These inhumane conditions have to improve,” Hiatt said. “The detainees deserve just treatment.”
On March 13, President Obama ordered the Department of Homeland Security to review the government’s deportation laws and see if immigration officials can enforce them “more humanely.”
Immigrant activists have complained that authorities and prison managers have retaliated against the hunger strikes by putting participants in solitary confinement and threatening to disrupt their immigration cases.
“We want to bring the demands of the hunger strikers to Zoley’s doorstep,” says Cici Claar, one of the organizers at the yacht club demonstration. “The whistle has been blown. It’s time for GEO to address these offenses and stop engaging in retaliation and suppression.”
Zoley also is the former chairman of the Florida Atlantic University Board of Trustees who last year helped kindle a firestorm on campus when he proposed naming the school’s athletic stadium after his prison company.
Neither GEO nor Zoley responded immediately to requests for comment on prison conditions and the protests.