Editor’s Note: Eduardo Castro interviewed Reza Nekumanesh, Executive Director of Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno, after his visit to Mesa Verde Detention Facility in Bakersfield, CA as a Clergy Caucus of Faith in the Valley. The Islamic cultural center is a non-profit organization promoting religious and cultural programs and services; it helps immigrant communities by bringing more understanding between the different cultural groups and deals with social injustice.
Eduardo Castro: What is your opinion of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detention centers?
Reza Nekumanesh: ICE’s agenda is to keep immigrants from doing their daily activities, whether at a store, school, job, etc., and throwing them into for-profit detention centers. I feel ICE is like a bogeyman sweeping immigrants up. The detention center I visited is owned by GEO Group, Inc., with various centers worldwide. GEO is like any other corporation who puts profit above the value of immigrants.
EC: What is the ethnic makeup in the detention center you visited?
RN: The makeup is about 65% from Mexico and Central America. The rest are from Africa, the Middle East, some Asians, some from Europe. I spoke to a man from Pakistan who fled his country because he feared for his life. He went initially to Brazil. He walked from Brazil to the United States. During his travel he encountered Brazil’s rain forest while walking with an injured leg with limited food and water for seven days. This shows the resilience of immigrants and what they go through. He desperately wanted to cross the U.S. for his own safety.
EC: What do you think is causing all this fear in the immigrant communities?
RN: Racism has existed for a long time. It just grew more after 9/11and the 2016 elections. Now it is open and certain sectors of the white community are not afraid to say it publicly because they have Trump’s support.
EC: What are your feelings on the attack on immigrants?
RN: Deportation is not something new. It was around before Trump, under previous administrations, only now it is more open and violent. To combat the treatment of immigrants, we in the communities are fighting for their defense, and we need to form alliances. We need to find ways to help immigrants unable to help themselves. Different sectors of the community, whether Latinos, Blacks, Asians, certain whites, must be willing to help.