By Rev. Hannah Petrie
Back in early May, church member Joe Pardee set up a lobbying visit to speak to US Congresswoman Judy Chu, about the egregious conditions at Adelanto Detention Center near San Bernardino. Along with myself, another church member Guy Tower, and our friend Carlos Hidalgo, a former detainee at Adelanto, we laid out our case to Rep. Chu that something needed to be done about the lack of medical care, food available, and legal help. We pointed out that in order to keep up with the 34,000 bed-filled quota passed by congress in 2006, ICE was actually returning immigrants who were self-deporting from the border, taking them back to facilities such as Adelanto, and holding them for up to an additional six months, just so companies like GEO can count on their revenues, and cities like Adelanto can benefit from job creation.
That fact (at the time, covered in a recent story by NPR) disgusted Rep. Chu. But what really moved her was Carlos’ story. I suggested her aides visit the facility, but she said she thought she better visit the facility herself. And she did!
This past Monday, on her birthday, she flew from Washington D.C. and visited the facility with her aide. A vigil/protest kicking off the Defund Detention in Adelanto Campaign (led by CIVIC, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement) was outside the facility, including members of our church.
Of course, GEO cleaned up their act for her visit, but we’re urging the congresswoman to not be fooled. She is requesting abuse records and copies of inspections carried out by the Office for Detention Oversight. It was covered by three news outlets: the LA Times, NBC news, and Spanish language newspaper, Unidos.
The coverage certainly highlights the so-called economic benefits to creating jobs for depressed economies like Adelanto. I wonder how long it will take before we as a nation see the deeply morally flawed thinking in creating jobs by creating a criminal underclass, be they immigrants, the mentally and addictively ill, the poor. This job creation (that you the taxpayer funds, by the way) destroys families, destroys lives, and destroys the moral integrity of our country.
Reforms are afoot, though, and organizations like CIVIC and faith groups such as ourselves are leading the way. Neighborhood UU Church helped get this ball rolling, and the fight is far from over. It’s times like these I remind myself of my favorite UU quotation from 19th century Unitarian Minister Theodore Parker, “The moral arc of the
universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”