On March 17 — exactly a month since the first day of the hunger strikes — constituents of Kevin McCarthy, Speaker of the House and Congressman of the 20th District, hosted a peaceful protest in front of his offices and at Yokuts Park in Bakersfield against government benefits and social security being lowered. Also, protesters attended in solidarity with the ICE detainee hunger strikers, representing hundreds who participated in the hunger strike throughout the Central Valley locations.
Kern resident Octavio Solosio was at Yokuts Park and stated, “It’s shameful that this is in his backyard. They [The hunger strikers] deserve more press and media coverage, they didn’t get it, but it’s not like McCarthy doesn’t know what’s going on in his own town. It’s just very disgraceful.”
The greater California community is outraged by the comments from loved ones detained at the federally owned ICE Detention Centers that are operated by The GEO Group, a private and for-profit international prison company. Locations under The GEO management where detainees reported hunger strikes were Golden State Annex in McFarland and Mesa Verde in Bakersfield.
Currently, the Northern California American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) updated the public that detainees from both locations have filed a class action lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and GEO Group.
“ICE detains people indefinitely under hideous living conditions, including facilities rife with black mold, while GEO Group profits from their labor by paying workers in custody $1 a day. We will do everything possible to protect their constitutional right to peacefully protest the injustice of their detention,” said the detainees’ attorneys in a joint statement, which can be found at aclunc.org.
Flor Martinez Zaragoza is an indigenous activist based in the Southern California region, and she travels to host community events and to attend protests.
“Today we were at McCarthy’s office and were still here in the area letting him know that we know that he doesn’t support our people, he doesn’t really care about our human rights, including the detainees. He never condemned the violent actions against their human rights in [the ICE centers]… He never acknowledged the hunger strike,” Zaragoza said.
The protest held at Yokuts Park, right around the corner from McCarthy’s office, landed on the same day as Congress’s annual Friends of Ireland Caucus. The St. Patricks Day luncheon is unique because it brings together the president, speakers, and both sides of congress all in the spirit of unity.
“My great grandfather came from Ireland in the 1860s, Jeremiah McCarthy. He did, like so many other immigrants, come to America to dream of better land, a better opportunity,” stated McCarthy during his opening statements at the luncheon.
Immigrants, asylum seekers, indigenous, migrants, farm workers, refugees, undocumented, and all other identities have urged for more support while waiting to be processed by the government.
“We’re here to tell McCarthy you know what you need to do, do the right thing. If not, you will be voted out,” said Xitlali Sanchez, a local activist. “We don’t need people who don’t represent us to be in office. We need true representatives who are going to support us.”
Detainees on hunger strike in early March at the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Facility, which processes civil cases, stated that they have no access to medical care and are being treated inhumanely.
During the demonstration outside of Mesa Verde facilities a mother of a detainee shared that her son came to the US as a baby, and as a young adult he had attended university. Now he faces severe long-term health problems due to the length of the hunger strike, which detainees felt was their only option to be heard.
McCarthy recently voted “no” on two bills that directly effects opportunities for citizenship. The American Dream and Promise Act and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act both passed despite opposition, and these bills support Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and migrant farm workers.
Kern Sol News reported that around mid-February of 2023, roughly 100 detainees were participating in a hunger strike at the Golden State Annex detention center in Mcfarland. Other local stations said that San Francisco was also covering their own hunger strikers.
When The GEO was asked for a comment on the current hunger strikes they told Kern Sol News that media coverage from several sources including public television, independent print media, and national non-profits like the American Civil Liberties Union was all baseless allegations.
The GEO Group is under a three-year accreditation from Florida’s CARF International, in partnership with the American Correctional Association.
Although President Joe Biden signed an executive order ending contracts with the Department of Justice for funding to for-profit prisons this created a void allowing for-profit detention centers to grow.
Lupe Martinez, a member of Delano’s Guardian Committee, was able to make Bakersfield’s protest last week.
“I have been concerned because no one talks about the immigrants at the border, and my concern is that [the news] is like a fire- and then it dies. One part is we can go after McCarthy, but the thing is we can not [let the cause] die,” Martinez stated.
Many organizations call for the end of detention centers, and they suggest court proceedings be handled locally with individuals allowed to stay at their current residence. There has also been a demand for more financial support when filing important documents and applying for citizenship.
When asked how the community can help, Zaragoza said to educate the youth and to claim your power.
“Everybody has a voice. It’s also at the palm of your hand,” Zaragoza stated. She urges others to use their social media to advocate for what they believe in.