Activists, advocacy groups and families came together this week in Concord to gather and peacefully protest against Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention camps proposed in their community.
The demonstrations were a stance against the request of ICE to use the Concord Naval Station as a “detention detention center and/or migrant housing.” A Navy memo, first reported by Time, proposed a camp for 47,000 people at the former Naval Weapons station in Concord.
U.S. Rep. Mark DeSaulnier tweeted Thursday confirming he was told by the Department of Defense they had not received a request to host to a detention facility:
I have received verbal confirmation from the DoD that it has not been asked to host a detention facility at Concord Naval Weapons Station, at this time. I am thankful to Concord & the community for their leadership & support in stopping this effort. https://t.co/C11fd5Vg4H
— Mark DeSaulnier (@RepDeSaulnier) June 28, 2018
Dozens of people turned out Wednesday afternoon to urge the Concord City Council to do everything in their power to prevent the federal government from building a mass-detention camp at Naval Weapons Station Concord during a special meeting.
The crowd was past capacity for the council chambers at 1950 Parkside Dr., and a firefighter was turning people away shortly after the meeting began. Every single person who addressed the council during a lengthy public comment period spoke in opposition to the proposed camp.
Some used the term “concentration camp.” One man, Kenji Yamada, who identified himself as being of Japanese descent, likened the proposed detention facility to the internment camps that authorities forced Japanese-Americans to live in during World War II.
The City of Concord posted a statement to their Facebook page Sunday:
“The City of Concord is very concerned to learn of news reports that the Navy may be planning a detention center at the Concord Naval Weapons Station. The Navy has not communicated information to the City about any such plans, although we have reached out to them upon hearing these reports.”
Citizens and constituents took the opportunity this week to raise their voices against the Navy with active protests and continuing public outreach.
Chris Williams and Celina Delos Santos, two Diablo Valley College students, said they saw a Twitter post that brought them to City Hall. They held a sign depicting migrants in detention camps, covered in space blankets that read:
“Never in Concord, never anywhere.”
Williams and Delos Santos both expressed horror and sorrow for the detainees, and made it clear local activism is imperative in times of gross human rights abuses.
Dave Hughes, a local resident who was also drawn to the event through social media, made it clear that this is not a policy he nor his community supports:
“As a citizen we want to say no, this is not what Concord is about. This is not welcome in Concord.”
Vanessa Castillo, a Martinez resident and local school social worker, came out with her two kids because “we need a lot more people” and “families need to stay together.”
Castillo, who comes from an immigrant family, said the specific numbers vary but roughly half of the students she works with come from immigrant families.
She expressed appreciation for DeSaulnier’s positions against these immigration policies, but said she was stunned by political leadership that continues to promote archaic immigration policies:
“It is not okay, families need to stay together. The thought of kids being taken from their families, with two little ones, is horrifying. How can the leader of our country allow this to happen?”
Though disheartened by the lack of empathy among the political establishment, Castillo saw the local activism as a step in the right direction:
“Parents, families, who don’t care about the status but care about humans, little humans, get touched by knowing that their neighbors are doing this and then they have to do it too … because you can’t just stay at home and wait for somebody to do it for you.”
Oscar Garcia is a local resident and employee of Stand Together Contra Costa, a state-funded organization that works with public defenders to provide legal support for those being affected by ICE. Garcia passed out cards containing the text of the Fifth Amendment in English and Spanish for those who may be at risk with minor but effective legal support.
Garcia told SFBay:
“What we’re trying to do is hand out fliers and give information, some people don’t want that. Some people don’t want to help.”
Garcia said that Stand Together canvases in Bay Point, Byron and Oakley, outlying areas often forgotten as East Bay communities. Despite just having six employees, Garcia said that the local and overall goals remain the same:
“Abolishing ICE is the overall goal but getting ICE out of our communities is the local goal.”
Dustin Sawtelle, an Oakland resident who heard about the protest on Facebook, called activism in Portland, San Diego and Arizona “direct action” that needs to continue in order to effectively combat ICE tactics:
“At a higher level it means abolishing ICE. On a local level it means refusing to help.”
Michael Kerr, a veteran and Bay Point resident, said he is married to a Salvadoran woman before explaining that this hard line on immigration is nothing new. Kerr talked about protesting arms sales at the Naval base back in the late 1980s, and his subsequent travel and protest in El Salvador.
Kerr said that, when he and other activists were restricted from entering El Salvador based on what he said was a request from the American Embassy, he was labeled a communist and had his entry restricted based on his political beliefs:
“We’re seeing a lot of anti-Trump, especially in California, but the reality is everything Trump is doing Obama was doing, Bill Clinton was doing.”
If at some point in the future the proposal should appear to be on the table again, the City Council’s next step will likely be to evaluate their legal options. Those conversations would likely take place in closed session, which is standard practice when discussing pending litigation.
The city has long been in the process of buying Naval Weapons Station Concord from the Navy, which Councilman Tim McGallian said may put them in a unique position to put up legal and procedural roadblocks:
“Yes, there are some things we could do.”
Even when that transfer is completed, however, McGallian said the federal government could still repossess the property through eminent domain.
Dave Brooksher of Bay City News contributed information to this report.