In early 2020, there was a possibility of a detention center opening in McFarland, a residential area where immigrants make up around 33% of the overall population according to the census. Naturally, it sparked protests from the residents, however, in the end, it simply wasn’t enough. Later on in the year, Golden State Annex was up and running despite all of the backlash.
Now about three years later on Sunday, Feb. 26, there was yet another protest in front of the Golden State Annex. This time the protest was about the inhumane living conditions that have inspired around 100 detainees to begin a hunger strike for the last eight days.
Throughout the rally people who were detained at a detention center at one point or another spoke about their experiences.
“I have to start off by saying this, I spent seven years in prison, the year and a half I spent in here was worse than that. We’re being treated as less…I started seeing the GEO staff taking advantage of people. Saying, ‘you can’t get your soap, you can’t get deodorant, you have to wait.’ But that’s not the way it works,” said Fidel Garcia during the rally.
More people spoke about the treatment and punishment they experienced within the detention center. Nestor Chavez, another former detainee of Mesa Verde, spoke of being silenced when they decide to speak up.
“The people in there can’t use their voice because they exclude them from other people. They put you in a private cell as a punishment. They also give you strikes. What is a strike? They cut your commissary or your phone and you can’t communicate with your family, and that’s really hard. Or you couldn’t see your relatives because you were punished,” said Chavez.
Others explained how their detainment affected their family members.
“I suffered eleven months inside. One of my grandchildren tried to end his life knowing I wasn’t with him and for everyone I can imagine all of this is very sad. It’s one thing to imagine but another to live through it,” said Victor Everardo Lopez.
Kern Sol News reached out to GEO for a statement on the hunger strikes. They stated that the stories are an attack on ICE.
“We strongly reject these baseless allegations, which are part of a long-standing radical campaign to attack ICE’s contractors, abolish ICE, and end federal immigration detention by proxy in the State of California,” according to a GEO spokesperson in a statement.
GEO also stated they do not tolerate staff misconduct.
“As it relates to allegations regarding retaliation, GEO has a zero-tolerance policy with respect to staff misconduct. We have a grievance process in place for use by persons housed at our facilities that is grounded in accessibility, confidentiality, fairness, objectivity, and integrity, without fear of retaliation. Any alleged misconduct by GEO staff is promptly investigated and addressed,” according to the statement provided by a GEO spokesperson.
GEO continued to say that the strikes are politically motivated.
“We also note that certain detainees take actions that are instigated and coordinated through a politically motivated and choreographed effort by outside groups,” said a GEO spokesperson.
During the protest through every chant or prayer the detainees of the Golden, State Annex could be seen waving a white flag and shouting “Thank you for coming.” In return, people would shout, “We are here for you.” Or other variations of that phrase.
The community has banded together to ensure that the people being detained at facilities like Golden State Annex know they are not alone in their fight for human rights.
These protests will continue until the hunger strikes are over, the next protest will be in the Mesa Verde located in Bakersfield next Sunday at 2:00 P.M.