Keep Immigrant Prisons Out of Bakersfield

Via CIYJA | Tania Bernal

Bakersfield is known for being one of the hottest cities in California. The average temperature during summer can reach up to 103 degrees. Imagine working 12 hours a day in this type of weather doing back-breaking field work to earn a living.

There is only one problem, though. If you’re one of the many migrant field workers in Bakersfield, your paycheck will sometimes only account for half of your work. When you ask why you’re not getting paid your full wages, your supervisor will say,  “it is no mistake, wetback, get back to work.”

I was 12-years-old when I witnessed my mother endure this kind of abuse. The week I remember this happening, we were short on food, but made the best of the situation. My mother’s experience was not isolated, this is a common story for many of us in Bakersfield. I live in a city where abuses like this are normalized and facilitated by the looming threat of deportation that pierces the hearts of families like mine. When we consider our options, half-wages for blistering hot labor is a pill we have to swallow to avoid the for-profit cages that exist in our community like a constant reminder of what happens when we speak up.

The major detention center in Bakersfield is the Mesa Verde Detention Center. Built in 2015, it is ICE’s newest immigrant prison in California. Its construction was widely protested because of the threat it poses to detainees health, including exposure to Valley Fever, a disease specific to the San Joaquin Valley region. This immigrant prison holds up to 400 people, and though ICE claims to have built it to keep detainees close to their community, the reality is that it limits accessibility to legal representation for detainees because of its rural location. Additionally, detainees must appeal their cases over a faulty video conference system. Now, GEO wants to expand this facility.

Recent reports reveal that GEO Group has reached out to Chencho Madera, the owner of the Bakersfield Dome, to buy his property and expand Mesa Verde. The Bakersfield Dome is a historical venue where special community events take place like dances, charities, and fundraisers. Madera’s willingness to sell a community landmark for the purpose of building more cages for human beings is immoral and dangerous.

An expanded detention center in the city of Bakersfield only means more suffering for the families that live there. Instead of betraying the hard-working laborers like my mother that contribute to Bakersfield’s vibrant community, folks like Chencho Madera and the Kern County Board of Supervisors should take a hard stance against detention centers. Additionally, any financial gain that comes from this heartless business is only going to the city of McFarland, which is 30-miles away from Bakersfield. That is because ICE has an Intergovernmental Agreement with McFarland to run this immigrant prison. To be clear, no government or person, regardless of size, should ever profit from putting humans in cages.

In the past year, the community group that I’m part of, the ICE Out of Kern Coalition, has taken a bold stance against Mesa Verde. We have visited detainees and written letters of support to them. We have taken a stand against ICE’s, GEO’s, and our local government’s involvement in the heartless business of immigrant detention. Moving forward, we’re going to host community events, including a state-required Truth Forum where the Kern Board of Supervisors and Sheriff’s Department must be transparent about their work with ICE.

Every single person in these detention centers equals profit for inhuman groups like GEO. How much longer are we going to prioritize profit over humanity? Kern County needs to take a stand and get on the right side of history. It’s time to let people like Chencho Madera know that our community is not for sale.


Tania Bernal is a  Cultivator of Change with CIYJA and is based in Bakersfield, CA. 


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