COMMENTARY: McFarland doesn’t need immigration detention centers; city should prioritize residents

February 4, 2020 /


Lately, there has been quite a dispute in my hometown of McFarland. The argument is over whether the city of McFarland will grant GEO Group, a for-profit prison company, permits to open and operate immigration detention facilities in town. 

On Jan. 21, a council meeting was held in McFarland’s community center to discuss these matters. People began a nonviolent protest to convey each opposing opinion.

NPR reports GEO Group is the nation’s second largest for-profit prison. This means their primary is making money. 

RELATED CONTENT: Hundreds protest, counter-protest expansion of immigration detention at McFarland Planning Commission Meeting

But should that be McFarland’s priority? I believe that when the city is making an important decision such as this one, money should not be the only consideration. Yes, GEO claims this will bring in new jobs and money to the city, but I don’t think those are the priorities we should focus on. And I hope McFarland city officials agree. 

GEO’s presence in McFarland will affect us as a city. 

I have no idea what it’s like to be held in a detention center, but when I picture immigration detention centers, I think of the families being separated and children living in cages. It’s not a pretty picture. 

Can I trust GEO when they claim their facilities are unlike those I’ve seen on the news? The reality is if a lawsuit were to be filed against GEO for any mistreatment or conditions of those detained, not only would it affect GEO, but it would affect McFarland as a city.

Opening and operating an immigration detention center would also build fear in our community for our undocumented peers. Imagine feeling uneasiness in your own town. What used to be an everyday routine — like driving kids to school or going grocery shopping — will now be a lot more worrisome undocumented people living in McFarland. 

Surely these detention facilities will drive people out of town, and my neighbors will feel their safety is not guaranteed. I’m convinced it will be effective not only to our undocumented peers but to all of the friendships and families that have been built in this community as well. Undocumented or not, we stand together.

Because people will fear leaving their homes,  this will affect the agricultural business. Many of our hispanic peers work hard and long days in the fields. What will happen if they are detained? What will happen if they move away out of fear? Who will work these jobs? 

Laboring in these tough conditions is not something everybody is capable of. If no one is working these jobs, the agriculture companies will lose many laborers, which could lead to a shortage of food or an increase in prices for our food. 

Unfortunately, it seems as if our city is most interested in the profit benefit. Have our city officials even asked themselves, “What about our people?” 

Most of the people I go to school with, including myself, are hispanic. Undocumented or not, we feel for those who are, and we fear for them. If these facilities open, I know it will take a toll on students and staff. Instead of focusing on their studies, my classmates will worry if their parents will be home when school gets out. 

Myself and many others do not agree with the establishment of detention centers in McFarland. I encourage others to speak up on this matter. Our council should consider how this will affect our community as a whole, and not just our finances.

These stories are written by McFarland Junior High students.