McFarland residents protest city council’s decision to hold GEO appeal hearing during pandemic

April 20, 2020 /

The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t stop McFarland residents and neighboring communities from getting in their cars Sunday to protest the McFarland city council’s decision to hold the crucial GEO appeal hearing during a time the community can not physically gather safely. 

Protestors in about 40 cars practiced social distancing by remaining in their cars covered with signs taped to the windows that expressed detention centers would not be welcomed in McFarland.

“I’m done,” said Alejandro Flores, a protester and UC Davis student. “I’m not going to allow another group of people to continue to discriminate and marginalize minorities while profit and exploit them for their own self righteous agenda.”

This protest comes days before the McFarland City Council is set to hold an appeal hearing. The City Council could overturn February’s Planning Commission’s vote that denied GEO permit applications that would have allowed GEO Inc. to convert two state prisons in McFarland to immigration detention facilities. 

When GEO filed for an appeal, it requested all seats be filled before the council votes. Two weeks ago, the McFarland City Council appointed Eric Rodriguez, a former U.S. Marine and former GEO Group, Inc. employee, to fill a vacancy on the city council. Rodriguez did not respond to Kern Sol News’ request for comment regarding the appeal hearing set for Thursday, April 23. 

To raise awareness before the meeting, protestors on Sunday drove through neighborhoods honking their horns, and people in their homes came outside and expressed gratitude as they waved to the protestors. 

Pablo Pascual, who has been an active community member for more than 30 years, came to Mcfarland in the 1980s. He was looking for work, just like a lot of other community members. 

“We are a community of undocumented families, friends, and neighbors and having these detention centers is very intimidating for us and will ultimately cause people to leave” said Pascual.

Flores said McFarland city officials are justifying GEO bringing immigration detention centers as a way to create jobs and help the city recover from its financial crisis. But Flores said this isn’t the way.

“We must create a solution or a proposal that creates a safety net for those living in the city who are undocumented,” Flores said. “A piece of legislature that protects them from being searched, investigated and deported especially when they have not committed a crime or have any existing related crime record.”

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