Guest column: ICE facility is bad for our community; please raise your voice in opposition

On June 3, 2018, we sent the following letter to the Uinta County Commissioners. Unfortunately, a year later we are once again faced with the prospect of Uinta County entering into a contract in the near future with one of the private prison companies (Management Training Corporation, also known as MTC, GEO Group or CoreCivic) who may want to locate an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility on county lands adjacent to our Bear River State Park.

After the events of the last several years, including human rights abuse, deaths of children and inadequate medical care, these detention facilities have been referred to as “concentration camps” by some and simply “prisons” by others. Regardless of the terminology used, our community needs to resist the temptation to accept one of these facilities under the guise of economic development.

Nor should we as a community endorse the expansion of these facilities as one of the solutions to the humanitarian crisis at our southern border. Mass incarcerations, giving our nation the dubious distinction of the highest incarceration rate in the world, have resulted in the civil rights crisis of our times.

We simply cannot continue to lock people up as a way of addressing social and economic issues — we need to renew and cultivate respect for all lives. In this spirit, we share our letter, and in the interest of space without footnotes:

 “We are unable to attend today’s commissioners meeting to share our thoughts on the ICE detention facility with you personally. We would like, however, to add our voice to the voices of many others in our community who oppose the construction of such a facility in Evanston.

“Others will address their concerns about the issue of whether the federal government should contract with private prison companies like MTC to provide detention facilities. They are right.

“Others will raise their concerns about the treatment and care of those who are detained in such facilities. They are right.

“Others will argue that the number of potential jobs that would be created at such a facility in Evanston are illusory, or at least overstated, when you consider the adverse impact that will be felt by other public and private entities in terms of their work forces. They are right.

“We would focus our comments upon the broader issue of whether Evanston’s values and cultural diversity are compatible with having an ICE detention facility in our community.   An ICE detention facility is a symbol of a broken immigration system that our leadership in Washington appears incapable of fixing. It does not matter how nice it may look from the outside (we can all ignore the fences topped by razor wire), or how good the programs may be that you saw during your visits to the MTC facilities in California and Texas — they exist only because of our current policy that aims to deport those that some have decided they ‘do not want here.’

“We are now rounding up tens of thousands of people and detaining them in “civil” (not criminal) custody to administratively process and prepare them for deportation, despite the fact that a significant number of these people have lived, worked and paid taxes in the United States for many years; people who have made and continue to make positive contributions to our communities. We are now separating children from their families as a part of this process.

“It is not your job as commissioners to help carry out a failed immigration policy — it is your job to represent all of the people of our community, whether documented or not; it is your job to preserve the values of our community.

“Our community finds its roots in the building of the transcontinental railroad — we continue to be proud of our railroad history, as we should be. We should not fail to remember, however, that a little over 130 years ago we experienced a very dark part of that history. The Chinese were initially welcomed to the United State and southwest Wyoming — they made vital additions to the work force of the time. Then, after the transcontinental railroad was complete, many jobs were lost and white workers decided the Chinese were taking away their jobs because of the subsistence wages the Chinese would accept.

“In September 1885, the conflict boiled over in Rock Springs … leading to the death and injury of many Chinese. According to Tom Rea’s account of the “Rock Springs Massacre,” Evanston was not immune to the bigotry and violence that rained down on the Chinese that had helped settle Evanston — armed mobs were reported to have been in the streets of Evanston, and federal troops had to be called in to protect the Chinese. 

“Apparently over 250 white citizens of Evanston petitioned the governor to pay off the Chinese and force them to leave our community. Six hundred Chinese were rounded up and loaded onto boxcars in Evanston, after being told they were being sent to the safety of California, only to find out they were actually shipped to Rock Springs, where they had to bury the dead Chinese who had been left to decay in the streets, and then fend for themselves.

“We now celebrate the Chinese who once lived in Evanston — we have the Joss House that displays many items related to their history and cultural contributions to Evanston; we have the Chinese Gazebo and Garden — a place of serenity and peace. We are right to celebrate the Chinese that once lived in our community, but we do so without acknowledging that we welcomed the Chinese to our community and relied upon their hard work to build our community, and then “deported” them because we thought they were taking our jobs and no longer had a right to be here.

“With that history in mind, will we do the same thing 130 years later with the members of our Latino community? Will we build an ICE detention center that strikes fear in the hearts of those who came here to work, to raise their families, to become our neighbors and friends? Will we build an ICE detention facility that helps “deport” them, and then many years from now look back and celebrate their contributions to our community?

“We recently traveled up the “Road to Nowhere” near the State [Park] Visitor’s Center, and walked up the hill to the area where apparently it is proposed to build the ICE detention center. We could not help seeing in our minds, vans traveling up that road with people separated from their children and victims of our broken immigration system — we could not help seeing in our minds boxcars full of Chinese. If you build an ICE detention center on that hill, it will still be a ‘Road to Nowhere.’ Please don’t let this sad history repeat itself. Please reconsider your support of the MTC proposal.”

Last year, hundreds of people gathered at locations throughout Wyoming for Fiestas de Familias to celebrate families and express their disapproval of allowing private prison companies to build ICE detention facilities in Evanston (or anywhere else in Wyoming for that matter). Faced with the renewed prospect of this happening in our community, we are encouraging the people of Evanston and others throughout Wyoming to attend a Fiesta de Familias here in Evanston on Sunday, Aug. 18, at 3 p.m. at Hamblin Park.

We encourage everyone to sign petitions, to raise their voices, to discuss the human rights issues that are involved with those who may think such a facility will be of economic benefit our community, to contact your local and state governmental leaders, to engage their faith communities in a dialogue on this subject. Please do not let your silence be interpreted as your consent to a proposal such as this to our community.


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