COMMENTARY: My safe place will be taken away from me if McFarland city officials grant GEO’s appeal

April 21, 2020 /


McFarland city officials have decided to give GEO Group another chance this week to bring in immigration detention facilities to my hometown.

For those of you who don’t know, GEO Group is a private prison company that owns and operates numerous detention facilities across the nation, including Mesa Verde in Bakersfield. Now, the company is hoping to turn two state prisons in McFarland to immigration detention centers. 

The city council will vote this Thursday to either grant or deny GEO the permits to make this happen. 

This has been a concern for many McFarland residents since before the year started. Then in January, people began discussing whether GEO should be operating in McFarland. The discussion has yet to stop. 

This has caused so much controversy. In February, there was a protest outside of City Hall, where hundreds of McFarland residents stood in opposition of the facilities. After a few cruel hours, the Planning Commission voted to deny GEO’s request for the permits that would have allowed it to turn the prisons to detention centers. The McFarland residents won that fight.

However, residents are finding themselves in the exact situation now as they were in February. GEO filed an appeal, and the City Council is set to vote on it Thursday. 

As a member of this community, I find it utterly despicable to even think about having a detention center up and running in my hometown. 

If the city council accepts GEO, residents will be filled with more fear.

Everyday tasks, like driving to work and walking to school, will seem nearly impossible with the prospect of being detained right around the corner.

Many families came to McFarland in order to give their family a better life and to be able to provide in a way they couldn’t in their home country. Hard work shouldn’t be their downfall. 

Detention centers will cause many people who have lived here for a majority of their lives to feel unsafe. As human beings, we all crave for that sense of safety and comfort. The City of McFarland is their safe place, which is why it should not be taken away because of their status. 

Is the City of McFarland willing to risk the well being of its community in order to allow GEO to open? 

I have lived here my entire life, and I never thought I would see the day where the residents of McFarland have to fight to keep detention centers out of a place where the population is dominated by immigrants. How ironic.

How are residents supposed to feel safe when there’s a detention center in their backyard? 

I can not even begin to explain how heartbreaking it would be to walk by the detention center on my way to school. It would just be a reminder of the tragedies that exist in my community. 

The detention center sends a message of families being torn apart. Mothers and fathers desperately trying to reconnect with their children hurts me to the deepest extent. I cannot even begin to comprehend how these mothers and fathers must feel being away from their children. 

People are so quick to forget the history surrounding the land of the free, but the truth is no one is illegal on stolen land. 

Allowing GEO to operate facilities in McFarland is a terrible decision because it just says immigrants are not welcome here.

If the city votes to grant GEO the permits, I will be incredibly ashamed to call this place my home when it has no tolerance for my family and I. 

I have never felt so strongly about anything as I do with this particular topic, because it hits close to home not just for myself, but for the majority of the residents who have decided to call McFarland their home. 

One of the most disappointing aspects of this whole thing is we won’t be able to safely gather to protest the city’s decision to hold an appeal hearing during the pandemic. 

City officials don’t have to hold the appeal hearing now. There is no deadline on the hearing. They can choose to hold off till the pandemic is over, but instead they chose to hold it at a time when we can not gather. 

Unlike the last vote, our voices will not be heard. We are being silenced. 

The fact that this issue was brought up not just once, but twice is astonishing. 

I do not feel welcome in my own hometown knowing that the people running it do not care about the families that elected them to their seats. I do not feel welcome knowing the city officials are okay with GEO ripping families apart.

The sad part is, the city council knows if they approve GEO’s request, they know the community will be shattered. 

Aimee is a junior high student from McFarland.

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