Otay Mesa Detention Center Called ‘Concentration Camp’ by Clergy-Led Protesters

by on June 26, 2018 · 9 comments

in San Diego

– Chant and Response: “We are with you. We hear you. We will not forget you.” -“Estamos contigos. Les oyemos. No les olvidamos.”

By Kathy Stadler / San Diego Free Press

With so many events taking place around the immigration travesty, it seems one may have gone under-noticed. During the PICO California statewide day of action Sunday, June 24, it was clear that the people being detained at the Otay Mesa Detention Center, could hear the protesters outside and tried to make contact – shouting and drumming.

PICO California, “the largest multi-racial faith-based community-organizing network in the state” organized a statewide weekend of action that began on Friday evening at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church. Faith leaders, PICO volunteers, and others came from across the state (including but not limited to Redondo Beach, Santa Ana, San Francisco, Bakersfield, and Fresno) for the Let Our Children Go action.

Friday evening included a vigil, interfaith service, and a training in non-violent civil disobedience. Many folks spent the night at the church and started organizing early Saturday for the action at the Otay Mesa Detention Center. Posters and noisemakers were made, blessings were written to send to people inside the Center, peacekeeping was organized, more tactics of non-violent civil disobedience were taught. Just after noon, hundreds headed to the Detention Center.

From the Times of San Diego:

Bishop Robert McElroy of the San Diego Roman Catholic Diocese said he grieved for the “hurt and wrong” suffered by the detainees treated as rejects.

“But even more, we grieve this day for the soul of our nation,” he told the crowd as he stood on the back of a flatbed truck.

“I grieve because I think of the fact that if Mary and Joseph and Jesus had come to our border last week as refugees, the child Jesus would have been ripped from [Mary’s] arms and put in a cage.”

While a small crew set up a sound system and a makeshift stage in the back of a truck, just east of the Detention Center buildings, hundreds staged to march from nearby to the Center.

Marchers near Otay Mesa Detention Center, Sunday, June 24, 2018. All photos by Kathy Stadler

As the marchers neared the Center’s buildings, chanting “We Believe That We Will Win” and “Les Amamos” (we love you) and “El Pueblo Unido Jamás Será Vencido,” (the people united will never be defeated) shouts could be heard from inside the Center.

The marchers went silent. It was clear that the people being detained inside the Center could hear those outside. A number of marchers were choked up and teary-eyed. Other marchers chanted out –

“We are with you. We hear you. We will not forget you.”

“Estamos contigos. Les oyemos. No les olvidamos.”

The marchers continued to a short event with remarks from faith leaders, State Senator Kevin DeLeon, and community activists before a group entered the Detention Center property to act in civil disobedience – demanding to see the people inside. A drummer marked their journey into the center with a steady drumbeat.

At the same time, marchers covered the Core Civic sign with one stating, “Concentration Camp.” Core Civic is a private prison company that owns and runs the Otay Mesa Detention Center, among many others. Soon the sign became an altar, with people leaving toys, clothing, and blankets in honor of the children taken from their parents by the federal government.

From the Union-Tribune

Jerry Berger of Carmel Valley said he decided to join the Otay Mesa event after reading about it on his phone Saturday morning.

“It’s the first demonstration I’ve done since the 1960s,” Berger said. “I think I went up to Delano to protest with Cesar Chavez.

“This has really moved me,” he said of the immigration crisis. “I am so glad to be here. I feel like I’ve been all talk, and haven’t done anything. This makes me feel less guilty.”

More chanting and prayers took place from the large gathering.

Before the action ended and those trying to enter the facility had all returned, many marchers lined the sidewalk paralleling the Center.

One powerful moment took place that struck every heart.

The drummer outside maintained a constant rhythm. When the marchers quieted, the same rhythm could be heard coming from inside the facility. It seemed connected and with the presence of the faith community had the feeling of a call and response. The people inside were communicating and making it clear that they heard the protest and were joining it. To some, it sounded like two heartbeats becoming one.

Some marchers took to their knees to pray. Others shouted into the facility to ask, “Are there children with you? How are you being treated?” and to say, “We love you. We hear you. We’re with you. We won’t forget you.”

Most marchers returned to buses and cars to go back to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. A small group from Generation Justice blocked the road going to and from the Center, chaining themselves together.

UPDATE: The protesters were able to successfully keep a whole shift of Core Civic employees from going home after their shift ended, for 7.5 hours. Seven people were arrested for peaceful civil disobedience. All have been bailed out.


{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Frances O'Neill Zimmerman June 26, 2018 at 3:05 pm

I was in that PICO/SDOP crowd on Saturday. If you have never been, it’s worth a trip south to see the desolate Otay Detention Center in the midday sun. It was an unexpected and astonishing experience to hear joyous voices of unseen detainees, from inside windowless barracks, beyond barbed wire and “Private Property” signs, responding to protester chants coming from free people out on the street. We consoled each other, hoping our words were true: “No estan solos.”


Oldob June 26, 2018 at 7:06 pm

Concentration camp??!! Are you kidding me!! Really, a concentration camp…..did anyone else take history in junior high? Have we all forgotten what happened in those camps. The detention centers may be wrong, but they are light years from concentration camps. Maybe internment camps although those housed American citizens and were disgusting on many different levels. But to equate these centers with concentration camps is irresponsible and I call on Frank, as the editor, to acknowledge that. This is ridiculous.


obcliffhanger June 26, 2018 at 9:08 pm

Very simply, these days, your outrage is grossly misdirected. Call it a “spa” if you need to, but it’s kids separated from family and an administration saying no asylum, no due process. These are the BF deals that deserve your exclamation points.


Peter from South O June 26, 2018 at 10:27 pm

Your expressed Jr. High level knowledge of the origin of the term “concentration camp” demonstrates ignorance, but ignorance is curable. Try searching for “reconcentración” and 1896 and thus further your education.

The concentration camp is a 17th century invention.


thequeenisalizard June 27, 2018 at 7:21 am

Perhaps you should look up the definition concentration camps before you call something ridiculous.


con·cen·tra·tion camp
?käns?n?tr?SH?n ??kamp/Submit
a place where large numbers of people, especially political prisoners or members of persecuted minorities, are deliberately imprisoned in a relatively small area with inadequate facilities, sometimes to provide forced labor or to await mass execution.


Frank Gormlie June 27, 2018 at 10:21 am

Oldob – even the Japanese-Americans that experienced the internment camps, now call them concentration camps. There goes your argument. I call on you to acknowledge your own irresponsibility as an American to think so lightly of what we’re doing.


RB June 27, 2018 at 4:41 pm

For the younger readers, it should be pointed out that it was the progressive hero, President F.D. Roosevelt (D), who sent Americans to interment/concentration camps by executive order.


triggerfinger June 27, 2018 at 11:50 am

Words have meanings.

I don’t need to research the latin word origin to tell you that the common usage of “concentration camp” describes a place where people were starved and gassed in a mass genocide.

So can we please discuss things like adults without making shit up?


Michael Randell June 28, 2018 at 5:00 pm

There were (arguably are) many types of concentration camps hence the designation of the Nazi death camps. I suppose this could be most closely related to the holding/transfer variety opposed to labor, death, hostage and reeducation camps.

My family perished in southern Poland at Belzic. They didn’t get the benefit of the gas chambers or firing squads. Just a diesel engine and a barn until they expired.

I fully appreciate the emotive response to the use of this language, but I would think both “sides” would agree that these are holding camps and not death camps. Any equivocation of the migrant crisis to the holocaust is misguided in my opinion.


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