This commentary was originally published in South Kern Sol, online, on March 13, 2020
Last month, the McFarland City Council voted to allow the GEO Group to open and operate Immigraion Detention facilities in my hometown, and as a member of this community, I feel utterly betrayed knowing there will be not just one, but two immigration detention centers in my front yard.
This prison-like building, most likely full of innocent people, is going to be directly across my home, and this decision made by the council members feels like a slap in the face.
How am I and the members of my neighborhood supposed to enjoy going outside and relishing our freedom knowing that just a few yards away is a building dedicated to imprisoning many innocent individuals, whose only crime, for many, was wanting a better life?
It was one thing when it was a prison, considering the inmates were there because they committed a crime resulting in their incarceration; however, many of the people being housed in the detention centers did not commit crimes to the same extent.
I can not fathom walking past the detention center and imagining all of these innocent people locked away for escaping poverty and violence. Most of the immigrants that migrate to the U.S. are trying to seek refuge and give their families a better life than they could in their home countries. Instead of finding peace here, many will be treated like criminals once the facilities open in McFarland, a town made up of immigrants.
Having the detention center in plain sight from my home is truly going to be overwhelming. I am aware of the terrible allegations made against GEO. According to the Business & Human Rights Resource Center, GEO was facing a lawsuit in 2019 over forcing labor upon the detainees. I truly cannot comprehend having such monstrosity within our town, but that is what the elected leaders in McFarland have chosen.
The detention center is not just across the street from my home, but it is basically right across the street from a park and right around the corner from my school. It’s as if no matter what I do, I just won’t be able to escape this sight. Every night I’m going to go to sleep knowing that families less than two hundred feet away from me won’t have that privilege to be comfortable in their own home.
I remember learning to ride my bike near the prison, but now it holds a whole new meaning. If I were to go bike riding in front of the detention center, I would feel like I was a traitor. Because my parents are immigrants, I would feel like I am disrespecting the people detained there because many of them are not much different than my parents. Many of them, like my parents, came to America. Many of them were brave enough, like my parents, to make a long, hard journey and endure those hardships to come to a free county.
In a way, I feel as if the McFarland City Council failed me by bringing in this institution. They failed to recognize the effects it would have on the community. They probably didn’t think about how these facilities would affect the people who live right across the street from them. They probably didn’t think about what it would mean to youth riding their bikes past the facility.
The mere thought of whole families being torn apart right in front of my home makes me feel so useless because I know that I cannot stop it.
I would love it if I could go outside for any miscellaneous thing, like taking out the trash, and not have to see the most shameful thing in this town. I don’t want to go outside to play with my siblings and see this menacing building and everything it stands for.
Frankly, it’s not fair for the residents of this neighborhood, and more importantly, I don’t find it fair for the detainees. This was the council’s choice, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it nor embrace it.