Disability Rights California, Centro Legal de la Raza and the California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice today filed a complaint bringing to light extensive violations of the disability, constitutional and civil rights of Choung Woong Ahn, a 74-year-old, medically vulnerable man from Korea who died in solitary confinement at the Mesa Verde ICE detention center in Bakersfield, California on May 17, 2020.
Ahn’s passing was widely mourned by family, community members and fellow immigrants detained in Mesa Verde alongside him. “He was a generous man, a very good person,” said Sitha, a fellow dormmate. “I started looking out for him since he was an older gentleman, helping him make his bed. In Asian culture[,] he was like an uncle, and we became close.”
The complaint, filed with the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General and Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, charge that ICE and the GEO Group–the private prison corporation that profited off of Mr. Ahn’s final days in detention–shut Mr. Ahn in solitary confinement because of his disabilities. His death, the complaint contends, reflects a larger troubling pattern of ICE’s misuse of solitary confinement in California, resulting in disproportionate harm to migrants with disabilities like Mr. Ahn, as well as other marginalized groups in detention, such as Black migrants.
Highlighting previous inaction by the federal government, Centro Legal and its partners also filed a demand for investigation with the Attorney General of California, urging the office to investigate Mr. Ahn’s death, use its legal authority to help prevent additional suffering and death in California detention facilities, and to end the prison-to-deportation pipeline by ceasing the transfer of individuals to ICE custody.
You can read a copy of the complaint and letter to the Attorney General here, and accompanying story by Rebecca Plevin here.