Press Contacts: 

Valeria Valiz
Kern Youth Abolitionists

Tania Bernal
Kern Youth Abolitionists

Susan Beaty
Attorney, Centro Legal de la Raza

April 10, 2020


Bakersfield, CA — Over one hundred people detained at the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center in Bakersfield, California began an indefinite hunger strike on Friday amidst the escalating COVID-19 crisis. In coordination, around one hundred people simultaneously began a sit in.

Citing fear for their lives and deep concern for public health and safety, the protesters urged ICE to release them from detention as soon as possible. In the interim, they demanded that:
  • No new detainees are brought into the facility
  • All staff, including kitchen staff, wear masks and gloves
  • They are provided with hygiene supplies like soap, sanitizers, and paper towels
  • They are tested for COVID-19 and provided adequate, offsite medical care

The protesters have also requested audiences with the facility administrator of Mesa Verde, Nathan Allen, and the regional Acting Field Office Director of ICE, Alexander Pham. They call on Governor Newsom and other elected officials to publicly support their demands and use all the tools at their disposal to free people from ICE prisons.

Following the announcement of the sit in and hunger strike, supporters from California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, Kern Youth Abolitionists and the UFW Foundation held a solidarity protest outside of Mesa Verde. Local organizers encircled the detention center in cars and shut down traffic outside of the facility to draw attention to the plight of detained immigrants and uplift their demands. 

In a powerful video released last week, a hunger strike leader read a statement by over 80 detained people about the conditions inside Mesa Verde Facility, stating 

“This will turn our detention into a death sentence because this pandemic requires social distancing which is impossible in this environment. There are 100 bunks in one room, and not much space or privacy. Cleaning supplies are diluted and ineffective when we do get them. Medical assistance is a long process that takes days just to be seen. They are not able to handle this outbreak. There is no screening. Even for those with symptoms. Employees go in and out of the facility, and don’t even wear gloves or masks when they walk into the dorm. All it takes is one person to have the virus, and we will all be infected in this petri dish.”

A young woman detained at Mesa Verde, who has asked to remain anonymous, explained:

“We are going on hunger strike because we are afraid for our lives. They aren’t letting us free, and they aren’t giving us what we need to stay safe and protect ourselves. We need soap and hygiene supplies, and we need to get tested. The virus is coming, and ICE has done nothing to prepare. They have even told us that we are safer from the virus in detention instead of in our homes with our families.” 

The Mesa Verde announcement comes amidst a wave of hunger strikes at at least ten ICE detention facilities across the country, including in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, and Virginia. National media reports that over 30 detained people and a dozen staff have already tested positive for the virus in at least 16 facilities and 10 states.