Intent on shining a light on squalid conditions at immigrant detention facilities, Kern County residents showed up in greater numbers than expected for a protest rally Friday afternoon.
About 400 people braved the triple-digit heat to march down Truxtun Avenue in downtown Bakersfield.
“They’re out here baking in the sun to support this cause,” said Tracy Lopez, an organizer for Women’s March Kern County, which coordinated the rally. “That says something about the support we have in this community and I don’t think that a lot of people think we have that support.”
The rally was one of around 700 similar events that took place mostly in the United States, but also throughout the world Friday.
Collectively known as Lights for Liberty, protesters that attended the events hoped to bring awareness to the poor conditions that have been documented at various facilities that have been used by the Department of Homeland Security to house undocumented immigrants, including children, from Central America.
“It’s heartbreaking. I have a son and I can just image,” said Katherine Gardner, who attended Friday’s rally in Bakersfield. “Somebody has to make a fuss about this. We’d feel guilty if we didn’t say anything.”
In a recent report Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General found “serious overcrowding” and prolonged detention at five immigrant detention facilities in Texas. Detainees were often wearing the clothes they arrived in sometimes months prior, and only were given wet-wipes to clean themselves.
The report also said 826 children at the facilities had been held longer than 72 hours, exceeding a limit set by the federal court. Some of the children were not provided hot meals, according to the report.
“It’s very concerning with what’s happening with the concentration camps, which is exactly what they are,” Ellen Schafhauser said at the rally. “It’s inhumane.”
Schafhauser carried an upside down flag during the rally, meant to signify the country was “in distress,” as well as a flag with corporate logos that had replaced the 50 stars.
“Our country is in extreme distress,” she said.
Although turnout at the rally exceeded organizers' expectations, other Kern County residents did not agree with the sentiments expressed on Friday.
“The handful of people supporting this do not speak for all Bakersfield residents,” Wendy Horack commented on a Facebook story about the rally. “I do not support this!”
Others agreed with the statement.
Former Republican candidate for Assembly Ken Mettler defended the Trump Administration’s efforts at border security.
“I truly believe that the Trump administration is making every effort to have an orderly immigration system, and I have every confidence they are making their best efforts,” he said. “But when the system is being overwhelmed by illegal activity, it is hard to have an orderly system.”
As of Friday evening, there were no official estimates for the nationwide turnout, but multiple cities appeared to have hosted successful events.
“This is really an indication of the dedication people have here for human rights,” local Democratic candidate Whitney Weddell said at the Bakersfield rally. “The people here really understand that if you stand back and watch human rights being taken away from one specific group of people, they can be taken away from all of us.”