CAMP PENDLETON — If not for the article in the June 22 issue of Time, picked up later that same day by the San Diego Union Tribune, few people in San Diego would have known that the U.S. Navy was drawing up plans to build a “temporary and austere” tent city on two military bases in California: one at the former Naval Weapons Station Concord, near San Francisco and the other at Camp Pendleton.
“Someone from the defense department leaked the information to the magazine,” said Joy Frew, a member of the Fallbrook Democratic Club, one of the organizations protesting the Pendleton tent city. “That’s where we first heard about it.”
Both facilities would house up to 47,000 migrants for up to one year, according to previous news reports. The leaked memo, written by Phyllis Bayer, assistant secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations and Environment, said that a migrant detention camp built to house 25,000 people would cost $233 million and construction would take two months.
Upon learning the news The Fallbrook Human Rights Committee/Comite de Derechos Humanos de Fallbrook organized a coalition of groups that held weekly protests against the tent city. They also engaged in a concerted effort to get more information from the defense department.
“It’s been so frustrating to get any information from the military,” said Frew. “We’ve been trying for weeks to get them to give us some kind of statement.”
Ricardo Quintana Favela, a spokesman for Comite de Derechos Humanos de Fallbrook, said that as of the end of July, there were rumors floating around that something might be moving forward on Camp Pendleton but “ … we have some ears within the base who are also keeping an eye on any movement there, and have confirmed that nothing is happening at the moment.”
Quintana Favela explained that human rights groups want decision-makers at Pendleton to know that it’s not acceptable that they be on stand-by in case the base moves forward with construction. “We want them to reject a detention camp under any circumstance,” he said.
The reason for the concern regarding the tent city at Pendleton is that less than a week after the Time story, Mother Jones published an article saying that on June 28 the Navy issued a statement confirming that the Concord location was no longer being considered as a site. Large parts of that former base are contaminated with chemicals and unexploded ordnance to such an extent that the site is undergoing an environmental cleanup under the Superfund program.
Sen. Kamala Harris is involved with the effort to stop the construction of not only the Pendleton facility, but of any new detention facilities anywhere else in the country. She has proposed Senate Bill 2849, or the Detention Oversight Not Expansion (DONE) Act, which would prohibit the expansion or construction of new facilities, reduce the number of detention beds by 50 percent and increase oversight of ICE facilities.
Harris’ office released this unofficial statement: “The Senator believes our immigrant detention system is massive and rampant with abuse. The White House wants to pour more money into it to imprison families. She urges her colleagues to support the DONE Act to prohibit the expansion or construction of new detention facilities and increase oversight funding.”
The fifth and final protest was held on July 30. “We accomplished quite a bit with the protests,” Frew said. “We made it clear that we are not going to accept a detention facility at Camp Pendleton.” Frew said that they are now working on bringing even more organizations together and shifting their focus to educating the public. She explained that because of the ACLU’s challenge to the administration’s zero-tolerance policy “ … everything is on hold right now. But we want to be ready and we’re staying alert until the case is settled.”
Frew said that they’re planning a forum for sometime in August. “We’ll have several speakers there including people from various veteran organizations and someone representing Sen. Harris.”
Frew, Quintana Favela and others will meet on Aug. 3 to discuss the forum and plan their strategy going forward.