McFARLAND, Calif. (KGET) — Tuesday night, the McFarland planning commission voted on whether to turn two prisons into ICE detention centers.
This was a permit submitted by The GEO Group, the second-largest employer in McFarland. The company already operates Mesa Verde detention center in Bakersfield with 400 beds, and it wanted to add more than a thousand in McFarland.
Hundreds of protestors flooded McFarland City Hall to rally both for and against the plan.
Ultimately the motion failed, two to two, with one commissioner absent.
“The main concern that families have expressed is just the ability to live in this community in peace, where they are not afraid to take their children to school, they’re not afraid to do their bare necessities,” said Ambar Tovar with the United Farm Workers. “It’s something that with the expansion of a facility, we’re not able to guarantee.”
Supporters said these detention centers would bring jobs and economic development to McFarland. The city is already at the brink of bankruptcy, with no fire department and only five cops. If the city can’t find a financial solution soon, the county of Kern will have to take over.
“The protesters are demanding that these people lose their jobs, at the same time putting our finances at risk at the city of McFarland,” said Mayor Manuel Cantu. “As it is, we’re struggling. We’re in deficit spending. That means we may or may not be able to provide police, fire, our ability to provide adequate water, sewer, and refuse services.”
On the other side, critics said The GEO Group wants to capitalize on McFarland’s financial vulnerability, and would just profit from separating immigrant families.
McFarland is 95 percent Latino. Many have loved ones who’ve been detained. At this meeting, almost every word was translated into Spanish.
But some said having a detention center in McFarland will at least keep their loved ones closer to home, instead of having to travel further to visit them.
“There’s a legitimate concern. There’s a moral issue here that’s jobs versus peace and tranquility of your neighbors. And it’s a tough decision, but I think that this city should be listening to the majority of people who say that they don’t want these types of facilities period in their communities,” Tovar said.
Now with the failure of the motion, that means The GEO Group must be out of McFarland by May.
A GEO Group responded to the decision Wednesday morning.
“We’re disappointed the Planning Commission vote ended in a tie and therefore was not able to make a positive recommendation to the City Council,” their statement read. “We look forward to presenting to the City Council on the important benefits of keeping the Central Valley and Golden State facilities open. GEO is proud to be a long standing member of the McFarland community, and we are hopeful to be able to continue to contribute to the City’s growth by keeping over 300 high paying jobs in the area.”
The planning commission will hold another meeting on March 17th.