“I assure you that on Judgment Day, God will show more mercy to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah than to the people of that town!”
That town is Evanston, Wyoming.
Jesus’ words from Matthew came to mind when the Department of Homeland Security published notice it intends to issue a long-anticipated Request for Proposals on July 17. The RFP seeks bids to build a prison housing 250-500 human beings coming to the United States legally to petition for asylum.
The RFP requires the concentration camp be built within 90 miles of Salt Lake City. That’s a clue. DHS has decided it wants the prison in Evanston, which is 83 miles from Salt Lake.
Since Trump’s immigration policy is designed primarily to inflict cruelty, Evanston makes sense. Evanston is far from the glare of the national media, far from regulators and inspectors, isolated from lawyers with competence to represent the imprisoned. Its isolation means families will not readily be able to visit, and adequate medical care won’t be available.
Make no mistake, coming soon to Wyoming’s future will be the shame and disgust of what the world sees on the Mexico-U.S. border. Crowded, unsanitary facilities where men, women and children who committed no crime are abused. The dark stain on those Texas communities will now fall on Evanston and Wyoming.
Evanston will forever be remembered as Ezekiel remembered Jerusalem. The Hebrew prophet called her Sodom’s sister. Jerusalem earned his condemnation because she, in the words of the prophet, failed to “aid the poor and needy” and let herself be used as a tool of oppression. (Ezekiel 16:49)
The words of Jeremiah will forever be used to condemn Evanston and Wyoming if they allow this tool of oppression to be built in the name of jobs and economic development. Jeremiah prophesied the doom God intended for another town because, he said, “The horror you imposed deceived you.” (Jeremiah 49:16)
This proposed prison will impose horrors on thousands of human beings, just as the Japanese-American internment camp at Heart Mountain once did. The difference between the two is that many Wyoming decision-makers did not want Heart Mountain or any other similar concentration camp built in our state.
Gov. Nels Smith objected strenuously. He was overridden by President Roosevelt, and forever Heart Mountain is remembered for the horror it imposed. In what Jeremiah called “the arrogance of your heart,” government officials in Evanston welcome the chance to be remembered for acting as an oppressive regime over the weak. These are the sins that gave Jeremiah cause to refer to Edom as the Sodom and Gomorrah of his times.
Were he around, Isaiah would join the chorus condemning Evanston. He called people like the Uinta County commissioners “rulers of Sodom.” Isaiah says “the word of the Lord” demands to know why these men “trample” the courts of God. God took notice that when those same men raised their arms in prayer, their hands, he cried, “are full of blood,” for the deeds they committed in open defiance of God’s desire for justice.
Isaiah spoke of Wyoming faith communities who sit silently complicit, acquiescing in this sin. “I cannot endure your iniquity and solemn assembly. Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean, remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes, cease to do evil, learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1)
The final decision will not be made by the “rulers of Sodom;” not Trump, not DHS, nor the Uinta County commissioners. The Legislature was aware that private prison operators are notorious abusers of human rights. They didn’t want for-profit concentration camps built here without adequate forethought.
Thus, the final word belongs to Wyoming’s five statewide officials. Gov. Mark Gordon, Secretary of State Ed Buchanan, Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow, Treasurer Curt Meier and Auditor Kristi Racines will decide whether the sins of Sodom and the horrors of Heart Mountain will be revisited on the God-fearing citizens of the Equality State.