A Vigil at the Adelanto Immigrant Detention Facility in San Bernardino

Hanukkah at Adelanto Immigration Processing Center

Southern California’s diverse communities are standing in solidarity with immigrant communities and refugees. On Sunday December 9, 2018, on the 8th night of Hanukkah, congregations from the Inland Empire and Los Angeles gathered in the desert of San Bernardino County.  There were eight speeches, one for each candle, from faith leaders; a Rabbi, Priest, Pastor, and Imam, the family of a man kidnapped by ICE to be deported from Adelanto, and Jews, Christians, and Muslims of conscious, compelled by their morality and faith to speak out and bear witness to the injustices perpetrated by a barbaric and inhumane immigration enforcement system.  They stood is a circle on the side of a dark road that stretched out across the desert’s wintry night, across from a unassuming complex, the Adelanto Immigration Processing Center, a privately operated detention camp holding approximately 2,000 detainees at any one time. That night the prayer vigil faced across from one complex, its yellow lights illuminating a nondescript stucco facade, that could easily pass for a warehouse or Wal-Mart distribution center but for its barbed wire and mesh fence, to one side, and the white sedan security patrols around its perimeter, creeping slowly through a half filled parking lot, shining spotlights periodically on the facility’s roof and wall.

Here, the interfaith vigil huddled in the desert night’s crisp and dry wind, celebrating the eighth night of Hanukkah. They gathered to shine their light on those inside, and illuminate the injustice and human rights abuses perpetrated by the United State Government, with our tax dollars, funneled through the Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to private prison operator GEO Group to operate an immigrant detention facility in Adelanto, a two hour drive from downtown Los Angeles.

Why Hanukkah at Adelanto?

Bend the Arc Los Angeles is a progressive Jewish social justice organization which  brought a bus from Los Angeles’ Koreatown to the vigil at Adelanto that night.

One participant on the bus was taking a leave of absence from a doctorate program studying ancient hebrew scriptures.  Rather than interpret and analyze the dead sea scrolls and other texts preserved in Aramaic on brittle parchment, he had helped flip Orange County congressional seats in the recent midterm election.  The Jews living in Orange County, as well as many affluent white Christian and secular families, former moderate republicans, were disgusted by the hate and intolerance in Trump’s Republican Party.  Along with the region’s growing demographic shift to a majority minority community, Congressional Republicans were swept out of an area they had long dominated.

The former religious scholar had recently visited Washington D.C. with Bend the Arc, protesting and lobbying members of congress to reject anti-semitism and disavow white nationalist organizations- the Alt-Right, KKK, and Neo-Nazis.

Older Jews, rabbis, rabbinical students, and members of various West LA synagogues sat in the front.  The back seats were full of teenagers, members of Habonim Dror, a Jewish socialist youth group, which operates summer camps throughout the United States, including one in Southern California near Big Bear.

While American Jews in past generations have been fervent supporters of civil rights and pluralism, that tradition has often been demphasized since the terrorist attacks by Saudi nationals on September 11th, 2001, and ensuing invasion of Afghanistan, Iraq, and anti-muslim hysteria that followed.

Since Trump’s inauguration, that has changed dramatically. The armed Nazi march in Charlottesville, the wave of prank bomb threats to JCC centers following Trump’s inauguration, the mail bomb scares, Nazi graffiti, the tree of life synagogue shooting, and the surprising strength of white supremacist and anti-semitic candidates in the 2018 election cycle has spurred many American Jews, such as those traveling to Adelanto Sunday, to action.

Trump’s cozy relationship with Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu, and Israel’s perceived courtship of southern evangelicals over reform and conservative American Jews, has crystallized an idea for many in the Ashkenazi diaspora to reshape their self-conceptions and political interests.

For some participants riding to the Adelanto Hanukkah vigil, there is unease at recent events. The executive actions stripping legal protections from Dreamers and Temporary Protective Status for Salvadoran, Honduran, and other immigrants, the militarization of the U.S. Mexico border, and ICE checkpoints and immigration raids, echoed what many of their ancestors experienced in Europe; an accelerating dehumanization that preceded the Holocaust.

The Abuses at Adelanto

The private prisons in Adelanto have faced scrutiny by media outlets for years. The Los Angeles Times detailed hunger strikes, detainee deaths, a lack of basic medical care, and suicides at the facility.   The Inland Empire based Press Enterprise reported on rampant sexual assault.  In September 2018, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General documented deplorable conditions, including numerous nooses, a lack of dental care, and neglect of the sick and disabled.  Despite these widespread substantiated reports, the Federal government has taken no action to improve conditions.  Indeed, all signs point to the escalation of cruelty, with recent authorization to use lethal force, and the tear gas and rubber bullets fired at migrants gathered on Mexican territory.

GEO Group

Private Prison firm GEO Group operates over 140 prisons internationally.  It is the 2nd largest prison firm in the United States. Privatization Watchdog In The Public Interest has chronicled understaffing, inadequate medical care, and contracts with guaranteed bed daily rate payments that perpetuate mass incarceration.

GEO group is worth $2.8 billion dollars. GEO’s stock is owned by major mutual fund indexes, hedge funds and banks such as Blackrock, Vanguard, JP Morgan CHASE, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo. Unsurprisingly, major public employee pension funds where employees, many who are union members, elect representatives, also own stock in GEO Group, such as TIAA-CRFF, a teachers pension fund, CALPERS, for California Public employees, and state worker pension funds in Oregon and Ohio.

An Interfaith Moral Movement

Since the Great Recession, there has been a net out migration from the US to Mexico, but Central Americans, often children, continue fleeing the violence and repression of Central American narco-states like Honduras, where government repression of students, farm workers, teachers, opposition parties, and even the Catholic Church.  Rather than examine the impact of U.S. foreign policy, and support for repressive regimes friendly to overseas military bases, the United States government has doubled down on deportations and militarization of the nation’s southern border. The day after the Hanukkah vigil at Adelanto, over 30 faith leaders were arrested at the U.S. border in San Diego, to bear witness to injustices perpetrated there.  An interfaith moral movement for Human Rights continues to grow as communities across the country unite in solidarity.


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