Contact (numbers not for distribution): 

Susan Beaty, Centro Legal de la Raza |
Priya Patel, Centro Legal de La Raza |
Juan Prieto, California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance | 510.414.0953 |

Immigrants at Mesa Verde Detention Facility resume COVID-19 hunger strike after threats of retaliation

Having temporarily suspended their hunger strike in response to threats of losing access to commissary resources, immigrants detained at Mesa Verde Detention Facility have resumed the strike urging mass release amidst COVID-19 pandemic.

Bakersfield, CA— Immigrants detained at the Mesa Verde Detention Facility in Bakersfield relaunched a hunger strike on Thursday morning, calling on ICE to release people from detention amidst the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. 

The strike began two weeks ago in the women’s dorm of the GEO-owned facility. Citing fears for their health and safety, strikers demanded swift action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 inside. By Thursday of that week, the hunger strike had erupted across the facility with nearly 200 immigrants participating. The initial strike was suspended, however, after officials threatened to revoke commissary access for those participating in the hunger strike. Commissary is a store inside the facility, and one of the only ways those detained can access hygiene products such as soap and shampoo. In the face of ICE inaction amidst the escalating public health crisis, immigrants at Mesa Verde have resumed their strike.

“The jail officials tell us that we need to be 6 feet away, but that is something that they are not letting us do,” explained Esteban Flores, pointing to the fact that migrants inside have been forced to stay 100 to a cell. “We are close to 3 feet from each other because we have no other choice. The jail officials do not all use masks, and they are coming in and out of the dorms. They could infect us.”

This exact neglect for their safety is why the hunger strikers have resumed their civil disobedience, urging for mass release of those detained. 

“It’s frustrating that people have to be detained here when we have family out there,” said Donovan Grant, another of the hunger strikers. “We shouldn’t have to sit in this detention center, waiting for the virus to hit, when we can be out there with our families.”

The strikers stress that many of those detained inside suffer from medical conditions that put them specifically at harm’s way should they contract the virus. “That’s why we’ve been pressuring ICE to release immunocompromised people immediately,” said Tania Bernal of the Kern Youth Abolitionists, a grassroots organization that has regularly protested outside the facility in conjunction with the strikers. “They’re not going to prioritize our community’s health, and so we’ll ensure we keep bringing light to the demands of the strikers inside.”

“I just learned that two of my family members in the medical field contracted the virus. I can’t see them, they can’t see me, and it’s hard,” mourned Grant. “We could die here. We cannot do social distancing, and people are coming in and out every day. I see so many different faces, and it’s so hard.”

The renewed hunger strike comes as organizing to #FreeThemAll has intensified across the state. Meanwhile, immigrants at another for-profit detention facility in California, Otay Mesa, are suffering the worst COVID-19 outbreak in any ICE facility in the nation. Amidst a flurry of lawsuits, advocates are pressuring ICE to immediately free people. Community groups are also urging California Gov. Gavin Newsom to take executive action to halt the expansion of detention and transfers to ICE.