Hundreds of Kern County residents united Friday with a goal to raise awareness of the “inhumane” conditions in immigration detention facilities across the country.
The triple-digit weather didn’t stop the crowd from gathering for the Lights for Liberty event and marching from the Bakersfield Immigration and Customs Enforcement office to the Liberty Bell in downtown Bakersfield. The Bakersfield event was just one of nearly 700 Lights for Liberty marches that took place across the country Friday.
“We are here because we stand in solidarity with Lights for Liberty to end the inhumane treatment of young children and other immigrants that are here seeking a better life,” local attorney H.A. Sala said at the event. “They are not lawless individuals but are here to work and contribute to our economy, yet they are subjected to inhumane conditions … under conditions that you would not even allow an animal shelter to stay open under.”
At least 30,000 immigrants are detained on any given day in the United States, just in the five states — Texas, California, Arizona, Georgia and Louisiana — with the highest numbers, according to a nonprofit called Freedom for Immigrants, which is devoted to abolishing immigration detention.
“With the recent mass threats of ICE on our communities, watching everyone come together in solidarity was like a boost of hope in humanity, especially in Kern County,” said Valerie Gorospe, a Delano resident and community leader. “It feels like it’s not enough. The momentum and spirit of today should inspire us to keep pushing.”
Those attending the rally were advocating for better treatment of those detained, including children.
“That sort of suffering is supposed to be beyond what our constitution allows,” said LGBTQ activist Whitney Weddell. “Every human on earth deserves basic human dignity.”
She continued: “You see the information coming to us about unsanitary camps, crowded conditions, and kids being separated from parents. These are ridiculous rights violations and it’s critical that we stand up and speak out… to our government.”
Although there was a big turnout for the march, many believed the march alone would not cause enough change. Robin Walters of Women’s March Kern County gave a call to action for the marchers.\
“Nothing will happen with a thousand marches unless you vote,” Walters said to the crowd.
Delano council member Grace Vallejo also urged the audience to call their representatives and reminded them of the “inhumane” conditions, calling the detention facilities “cages and prisons.”
“It’s all about being a human being and seeing every person as a human being regardless of whether their documentation is there or not,” Vallejo said.
At the rally, know-your-rights flyers, put together by the Immigration Justice Collaborative, were handed to attendees.
“We have imparted information and knowledge to our immigrants to advise them of their constitutional rights so that they can ensure that those rights are asserted and that they are protected from ICE agents that are counting on them to not be aware of those rights or to give up those rights,” said Sala.
United Farm Workers Foundation attorney Ambar Tovar spoke of the grief the community underwent after a couple died in Kern County last year while fleeing ICE agents.
“We grieved last March in Delano, and we continue to grieve the deaths in our southern border and detention facilities across the nation,” said Tovar. “Enough is enough!”
“It is not a question of immigration policy. It is a question of morality,” Tovar said. “Our moral compass as a community — as an individual — should not lead us down a path where we find ourselves silent and thus complacent.”
South Kern Sol is a youth-led journalism organization in Kern County. In their stories, reporters shine light on health and racial disparities in under-served communities across Kern. For more stories by South Kern Sol, head to southkernsol.org.