YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – A discussion on immigration in the area was held at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Youngstown on Thursday.
Roughly 30 people gathered as two panelists touched on several topics related to immigration.
One of the topics discussed was the recent death of 34-year-old David Hernandez Colula. Colula committed suicide in a Youngstown ICE detention center on Feb. 20.
“Last Friday he was found in his cell and the cause of death was self-strangulation. Suicide. So this brings it very real for us, in terms of what is our responsibility and our response to this as a community?” said Reverend Joseph Boyd.
Reverend Gayle Catinella spoke about Colula. She said he had a wife and two children.
Colula was one of more than 300 immigrants that were being detained at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown.
But recently, the prison announced it would not be renewing its contract with ICE, so all of the detainees have either been released or moved somewhere else.
Katie Salupo is a part of a group that formed as a way of assisting immigrants who have been released from the Youngstown detention center.
For over a year, members from the group would go down to the bus station every day and help immigrants who had just been released.
Salupo said once released from the prison, they were dropped off at the bus station and simply left to fend for themself. Many of them, not able to speak English, couldn’t even read their bus ticket.
“When they do get enough money raised for their bond, they’re dropped off at the bus station, sometimes in the middle of winter, wearing nothing but T-shirts,” she said.
So, the group of volunteers would provide them with items to help them on their journey.
“When we meet them we get them hats and gloves, coats, we give them bags for their travels. Sometimes they’re getting on the bus and going up to three days with nothing, no money for food, no water,” she said.
Salupo said one of the biggest misconceptions is that the detainees came to America illegally. She said although many of them came here the correct way, they were still thrown into a detention center.
“These people are being thrown in prison even though they haven’t broken any laws. They’re being treated like prisoners,” she said.
Chrissy Stonebraker Martinez was also on the panel. She works with the InterReligious Task Force on Central America. She spoke about her personal ties to immigrants.
The discussion was the first of three that will be held at the church, the next one being roughly one month from now.
The purpose of the series is to help provide support to immigrants still in the area.