FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 9, 2020
Despite months of warnings, at least one immigrant at Mesa Verde Detention Facility tests positive for COVID-19
New positive case, the result of transfer from CA prison, highlights risk to lives of detained people. Meanwhile, ICE continues to retaliate against hunger strikers.
BAKERSFIELD, CA– While nearly 70 immigrants at Mesa Verde Detention Facility are entering their seventh day of a hunger strike to warn of the dangers of COVID-19, at least one person detained has tested positive for the virus. Though detained people specifically demanded a halt to transfers to reduce the spread of the virus, the Newsom administration transferred a person currently fighting the virus from a state prison.
After testing positive this week, the community member was placed in solitary confinement. “This cruel response to someone contracting a life-endangering virus speaks volumes to the inhumanity of ICE and those who run these facilities,” said Tania Bernal of the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, an advocacy organization that has been supporting the hunger strikers inside. In May, Mesa Verde officials forced Choung Woong Ahn into solitary confinement, citing COVID. Mr. Ahn died by suicide two days later.
The total number of COVID-19 cases confirmed in ICE detention nationwide is now 2,742. Meanwhile, a parallel crisis is unfolding in the state’s prison system, with over 1,300 cases at San Quentin alone. People incarcerated at San Quentin began their own hunger strike this week, calling attention to similar inhumane conditions and demanding freedom and safety amidst the pandemic.
Hunger strikers at Mesa Verde expressed solidarity with the hunger strike at San Quentin: “I am sad, angry and fearful to learn that the virus is spreading and killing people at San Quentin,” said Brandon, a hunger striker at Mesa Verde who was formerly incarcerated at San Quentin.
In an attempt to intimidate the hunger strikers from speaking out, officials at Mesa Verde have removed access to hunger strikers’ commissary resources, including hygiene products. “We need our commissary to stay safe” explained hunger striker Brandon. “We need soap and shampoo from the commissary to be able to do what we can to protect ourselves from COVID. We are only exercising our rights to protest, and ICE is punishing us for that.” Hunger strike Asif affirmed that despite ICE’s intimidation tactics, “We plan to continue to go on.”
The immigrants organizing the hunger strike issued the following demands to ICE and GEO Group, the troubled for profit corporation which runs the facility:
- Stop transferring people from criminal custody into ICE detention;
- Serve us fresh, nutritious food–including fruit, real meat, and larger portions;
- Repair our bathrooms, and clean and sanitize our dorms regularly; and
- Require that all staff wear masks and gloves at all times.
Hunger strikers also penned a powerful joint letter to Judge Vince Chabbria, a federal judge overseeing the conditions at Mesa Verde, describing their plight and pleading for their release:
We ask you, please, when you are reading our bail applications, think about the situation inside here, think about our families, and remember our humanity. We are grateful that you have freed so many of our brothers, but we all also need to be free and safe.
Hunger striker Asif explained, “We have seen Judge Chhabria release folks with past arrests, so we know he has the authority to release the rest of us to safety.”
“Whether it be Governor Newsom ending transfers to detention facilities, or demanding Attorney General Xavier Becerra launch an investigation and hold the detention facilities accountable, strikers have been pointing to the solutions to these issues,” said Bernal at CIYJA. “Yet so-called-progressive people in power—including Governor Newsom, AG Becerra, and Judge Chhabria—continue to endanger the lives of our community members inside Mesa Verde by not using their full authority to stop transfers, investigate, and order release.”
This sentiment is reflected in a recent analysis made by Judge Tigar around California prisons and the COVID outbreak faced inside. This is because the outbreak inside prisons point to the inability for them to handle such a drastic global pandemic. To strikers such as Asif, a migrant who was just denied release by Judge Chhabria, the story of Carlos Mejia sits as a warning. Mejia was also denied release, and died due to COVID-19 complications after contracting the virus inside the Otay Mesa Detention Facility.