Yesterday, June 5, I attended the Uinta County Commissioners’ meeting to present an MOU for their approval and signature. An agenda item after me included a presentation by WySayNo. Spokespersons for WySayNo are attempting to convince the Commissioners to drop their support for proposed construction of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility in Evanston.
I decided to stick around for the arguments and be educated. I learned a lot.
I learned that opponents of the ICE facility consider it to be immoral. By extension, those people who support the detention center, like me, are also immoral. I learned that supporters of ICE detention centers are “racist” because detainees, many of whom are Hispanic, are incarcerated for petty, misdemeanor crimes. I learned that it is “inevitable” that detainees, especially members of the LGBTQ community, will be raped and physically abused in a new ICE detention center. I learned that some equate support for the ICE resource with concentration camps, such as Heart Mountain, WY, when Japanese-Americans were imprisoned for simply being of Nisei ancestry during World War II.
Others somehow found parallels between the Chinese Massacre in Rock Springs, back in 1885, with what might/could happen if the ICE detention center is built in Evanston. Blah, blah, blah. The self-serving diatribe continued.
I had had enough of the pontifications. I went to the podium, not as a county bureaucrat but as a citizen living in Mountain View, and expressed my frustrations. For members of my community to lower themselves to Trumpist Rhetoric (yeah, its common usage is now part of the vernacular) and accuse fellow citizens of immorality and racism because they have a different opinion is beneath the respectful sensibilities of my neighbors.
Additionally, the Nisei camps were a tragic, indefensible use of federal power cloaked in racism. The Knights of Labor, in a racist labor dispute, were the principal actors in the mob violence resulting in the murders of Asian people during the Chinese Massacre. On the other hand, the federal government has an obligation to uphold its immigration and naturalization laws.
When reasonable suspicion and probable cause dictate that an undocumented person be apprehended and held by ICE, we insist the feds do their job. As illegal aliens, they have broken the law.
To draw a direct line between concentration camps, mob violence and the proposed ICE detention center is foolish, at best. To paint myself and other advocates of the ICE detention center with a broad brush, accusing us of racism and insensitivity toward our Hispanic neighbors, is absurd, at worst. (Side note: polls show most Americans want Congress to get off its dead butt, find common ground on both sides of the aisle to reform immigration policy, give a welcoming hand to Dreamers, and discover an equitable road to citizenship for millions of undocumented, yet treasured families in this nation. Until then, ICE has a duty).
As to “inevitable” violence in a new ICE detention center, the argument is counterintuitive and circular. Some people commit crimes. Prisons, jails and detention centers are built. On a very small scale, violence and predation happens within such places. Does this mean that we cease to take freedom away from law breakers?
Because criminal acts may occur in detention facilities, we should just halt law enforcement and terminate punishments? Be very careful what you wish for lest you cause a bigger problem.
What I really learned in yesterday’s Commission meeting is that folks have forgotten their civic lessons. The arguments presented and summarized above were laid down in the wrong forum. In my classes, teaching high school and college political science for 25 years, I made sure my students became knowledgeable regarding the responsibilities of each level of government. The Feds are in charge of immigration and naturalization policy, not the Commissioners and local lawmakers. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel and Congress members will hold Management and Training Corporation (MTC) accountable for operations at the ICE detention center, not the Commissioners. The Wyoming Department of Family Services will be tasked with unearthing solutions for problems within undocumented families, not the Uinta County Commissioners.
What we expect from our local, elected officials is to encourage economic development, with minimum regulation, so schools and necessary infrastructure can be built and maintained. To that end, I personally applaud the Commissioners and Evanston City Council for going on a fact-finding mission to see MTC facilities in California and New Mexico up-close-and-personal. It is very disappointing that naysayers think they are stupid, naïve and too easily hoodwinked by those who wish to build an ICE detention center here. Please ignore the “nattering nabobs of negativism.” I will.
Finally, a great opportunity has been offered to Uinta County for progressive support of the proposed ICE detention facility. The whole project is still in infancy. However, if advocates of this vision for jobs, a boost for small business, contractor employment, tax base improvement, etc. continue to be a “silent majority,” the whole scenario will go “poof.”
Community leaders, small business owners, and forward-thinking persons must convince the County Commissioners, Evanston Mayor/Council, and candidates for local political office in November that the vast majority of the voters want the ICE detention center. Your voice in this endeavor is important. WySayNo must be blunted.