Does anyone have a nice, big plastic bowl Armando can borrow? Well, keep. He might have trouble returning it.

Armando's old bowl has cracked from overuse, a consequence of his willingness to constantly loan it to other detainees. They'll pulverize Fritos, add hot water and knead the mix into masa for tamales, or soak Corn Nuts until they're the chewy consistency of hominy to make posole. But now the old bowl has had it.

Keeper of the bowl, however, is only one of Armando's self-appointed duties at GEO Group's Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center on Bakersfield's Golden State Avenue. He leads Bible studies and serves as guide-friend for a blind fellow detainee. And, like most of the nearly 400 prisoners at Mesa Verde, a private prison that contracts with the federal immigration enforcement agency, he closely monitors the progress of his asylum case.

He shares the updates with his wife and two children, who live in the north Bay Area, and with a group of Bakersfield residents who visit often to listen and encourage the detainees. They call themselves KWESI, or Kern Welcoming & Extending Solidarity to Immigrants. Members visit several times a week for an hour at a time.

Jeannie Parent, a Bakersfield College instructor, founded the group four years ago with a small group of church friends. One of their first connections at Mesa Verde was a native of Ghana named Kwesi Amuzu, who both validated the group's purpose and provided the seed for its name: "Thank you for visiting," he told Parent one day. "It makes me realize someone knows I exist."

Amuzu was eventually released by ICE and now lives in San Francisco, but incarceration of months, even years at a time, followed by deportation, is more the norm.

Eddy Laine, the retired former director of the Kern County Office on Aging, and later an elementary school teacher, is one of the most faithful of those friends. Armando — who asked that his last name not be used for fear of repercussions from the criminals from whom he seeks the safety of asylum — is among his regular visits. 

Armando was raised in the Solano County community of Fairfield, but he spent his early youth in the central Mexico textile town of Moroleón, Guanajuato. His family left to escape violence: Cartel thugs, he says, cut off his cousin's hands and genitalia, and his brother was shot in the chest but survived.

"If I go back, I'm not going to make it," he told me on a recent visit. "Possibly my body will never be found. But I have faith. I have trust. That's all I've had since I've been here."

Armando has a checkered past — he has served time in state prison — but he had settled into a responsible job as a welder, and he and his wife, a medical device representative, were raising two high achieving teens when ICE picked him up two years ago.

Now he bides his time at Mesa Verde with a sketch pad, communion with God and as the eyes of a blind fellow detainee named Margarito.

His is one of dozens of stories KWESI members have heard, processed, and in many cases championed.

Parent, who teaches English for multi-lingual students at BC, says detainees with records have served their time; what they face now is something entirely different. Many, she said, have done things precisely the right way.

"There are women here," Parent said, "who came to a legal port of entry and asked for asylum. They did it the legal way — you must be on U.S. soil to ask for asylum. And that's exactly what they did. But here they are."

KWESI has been able to land a series of small grants from the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services to finance some of what they do.

"While (Mesa Verde) is still here," Parent wrote in one LIRS application, "we can at least make the lives of those imprisoned a little less lonely and a little more hopeful by offering solace.

"The act of visiting an immigrant in detention, accompanying them in their suffering, seeing their humanity, and expressing our love for them is a way to practice the values of ... churches in our community."

Churches that have been involved include the Unitarian Fellowship, which Parent attends, Emmanuel Lutheran, which Laine attends, and Wesley United Methodist.

"For me," Laine said, "it's a matter of faith. It's about welcoming those who need our love."

Martha Corcoran, who attends the United Methodist Church on Stockdale Highway, was at Mesa Verde on Tuesday to visit her detainee-friend Gabby. Meg Clay, who attends First Congregational Church on Real Road, arrived a few minutes later for her regular visit as well.

"I just want everyone to know that somebody cares about them in the United States," she said.

KWESI, which does not have a formal agreement with ICE, holds monthly meetings, with visitation trainings every two or three months (search for KWESI on Facebook).

The organization provides safe release services for many of the detainees who've won their cases or have been paroled. Volunteers pick them up at the immigration office, get them phones, clothing, hygiene kits, luggage and food, offer temporary housing and then take them to the bus station, train station or airport. Sometimes they pay for their tickets.

Since two detention facilities in Northern California were closed down in 2018, Parent noted, Bay Area immigration lawyers and non-profits have been counting on KWESI to continue its work and even scale things up.

Some of that work has broad ramifications, some of it less so. KWESI would like to see Mesa Verde institute a GED education program, which prisons in California and elsewhere offer as a basic service. They would also like Mesa Verde to reinstitute an art therapy program, which was discontinued after its funding elapsed; it's good for detainees' mental health and consequently helpful for prison safety and order.

Armando would like to toss out one other request, on behalf of himself and chefs in his dorm: Anyone have a large, plastic bowl he can borrow? Er, keep?

Contact The Californian’s Robert Price at 661-395-7399, rprice@bakersfield.com or on Twitter: @stubblebuzz. His column appears on Sundays, Wednesdays and Saturdays; the views expressed are his own.

(21) comments

Independent Voter

I trust, then, that those among us who have no problem with the willful disregard of law and order - particularly those who hide behind the very scripture they truly despise but now wield as if a weapon - have opened their own homes and bank accounts to share with the victimized and oppressed they hold in such high regard.

yorkies2014

thank goodness there are some good people left in this world of hate.......Vote Blue in 2020

Ciscojav

From "What Does The Bible Say About Immigration (and how should Christians respond)"; 7/30/19 Crosswalk.com online article.



"Too often, we’ve not looked to the Scriptures as our primary authority when it comes to forming our views toward immigrants and immigration....In fact, when it comes to the top factor that informs their views on the topic, more evangelicals cited the media than the Bible, their local church and national Christian leaders combined.



Some might presume that’s because the Bible is silent on the issue of immigration — but it’s not. While the Scriptures do not prescribe specific immigration policy that should govern the United States (or any other nation), they are replete with stories of immigrants, with specific instructions from God to the Israelites about how to treat foreigners who came to reside in their land, and with broader principles that have clear ramifications for how contemporary followers of Jesus should interact with our immigrant neighbors. Even among evangelicals who disagree about how our government should prudentially apply biblical principles to questions of public policy, the role of the church is clear."



I think you all recognize this quote from TBC article;



"Armando .....family left to escape violence: Cartel thugs, he says, cut off his cousin's hands and genitalia, and his brother was shot in the chest but survived.



"If I go back, I'm not going to make it," he told me on a recent visit. "Possibly my body will never be found. But I have faith. I have trust. That's all I've had since I've been here."



I think some of your may recognize some of these quotes;



Deuteronomy 26:5; "Then you shall declare before the Lord your God, My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down in Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous."



Deuteronomy 27:19; "Cursed is anyone who withholds Justice from a foreigner, the fatherless or the widow. Then all the people shall say, "Amen!"



Exodus 12:49; "The same law applies both to the native born-born and the foreigner residing among you."



Exodus 22:21; "Do not mistreat or oppress the foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt."



We are witnessing a very dark moment in American history.

Vico17

What does the Bible say about murder?

Boris25

Gee, just because someone broke United States laws by coming into the country doesn't mean they should be treated like a criminal. Oh wait they are criminals.

lrlopez74

Immigrants are welcome here. Deport racists.

Boris25

Oh yes, legal immigrants are welcomed here. Illegal aliens, deport every single one of them!

Abby

Who are you implying is racist? And immigrants are welcome. People illegally crossing the border or falsely claiming asylum are not.

Gene Pool Chlorinator

lrlopez74 believes that anyone who (shock) doesn't nod their heads in bovine agreement with his beliefs is either 1) Racist or 2) a Nazi.

Better to just ignore him...

cgga

Why was there no touching story about those that recently became US citizens in this county? I am sure each of those individuals had stories of their own that to me are much more noteworthy.

7nickfish

Robert, Where was your outrage when Obama enforced immigration laws. What has changed? Giving a touchy feely story does nothing. I could do the same on any subject but being a reporter and reporting what the problems are and were is more helpful to having people make decisions based on facts. I think one of your favorite people recently said "we don't deal with facts only the truth" What is your suggestion for solving the problems of the world without the USA footing the bill

Bluelifegirl

Im not going to waste My money on a Paper that avocates ILLEGALS wasting My Tax Dollars and Murdering Our AMERICAN CITIZENS

Abby

Question....why do you label people who come over and enter our country illegally as “immigrants?” That’s like calling bank robbers “account holders,” or “customers.”

Stop trying to play the media game and print the truth.

Steelerman

@Abby I agree. It's like gun owners constantly referring to themselves as "law-abiding" as if they obey the law 100% of the time. The news is full of stories of so-called "law-abiding" gun owners committing all sorts of crimes. Also, I did not know a human can be categorized as illegal.

byebyeCA

With all the laws passed by the gov no one is a 100% law abiding citizen.

Gene Pool Chlorinator

Illegal immigrants = Gun owners? Wow, you win the award for the non sequitur statement of today.

Also, try coming up with a better comeback than "humans can't be illegal"- that dead horse has turned to dust by now. You know she is referring to their legal status- check the verbiage at Section 1252(c) of the "Aliens and Nationality" laws...

GaryJohns

Slow news day, huh Bobby....?

Vico17

Now write a touching story full of pathos and irrelevant scarves and knitted socks given to Kate Steinle, as she walked by the pier with her dad during a pleasant, sunny afternoon in the Bay area, not knowing her promising life would be cut short by the senseless act of an illegal alien who had just stolen a firearm from a public servant whom had stopped for lunch at Wienerschnitzel's, or El Pollo Loco. You chose, so it sounds dramatic and Pulitzer-like.

Or, now write a story about Cpl. Ronil Singh after he had returned from a fishing trip with his buddies the week before and was about to kiss his wife goodbye who was at the dimly lit kitchen table and then smile at the newlyborn by the small, sparsely decorated Chrismast tree by the front window in a two-bedroom apartment in a typical central Valley farm town, before heading out to protect the community he so belovingly wished to embrace and belong to, not knowing he was about to be cut down by a drunken, illiterate criminal illegally allowed to stay in California for political gain by the "tolarant" left.

Or, now write about Rocky Jones, 51. Or write about Sabrina Starr, 21. Or, Mollie Tibbets, 20. Or Aron Hampton, 23. Or, Steven Marler 38. Or....

Abby

You nailed it!

Meeshka

We can only dream lol. Leftist media would never, ever write about such things. Interestingly, the focus on and effort for illegal immigrants sometimes makes me feel lonely. People who are against their coming here aren't free to express such without chastising and shunning. We/I feel isolated and stifled. Abandoned by our government, liberal peers, and media such as the Californian.



I was born here. I have no family here. I've been homeless, scared and desperately in need. There are thousands of people like me here. I'd have loved to have the care and concern of the little group mentioned in the story. And from local media such as this one that instead spends an alarmingly disproportionate effort romanticizing criminals. Perhaps not in a story as cloyingly corny as this one.



But it won't happen.

ISpy

It often dismays me how much of a 'bleeding heart' we seem to have for those outside of our own country and culture...while not doing anything for those who already belong to us.

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