Media Contact: Lisa Knox, (415)-684-4783, firstname.lastname@example.org
(Phone number not for distribution)
May 15, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Second COVID-19 Death Announced, Solo-Hunger Striker Sounds Alarm While ICE Allows Virus To Ravage Facilities
Marysville, CA – On Sunday, May 10th, Juan Jose Erazo Herrera, a man detained at the Yuba County Jail, began an indefinite hunger strike to bring attention to horrific conditions inside the facility. At twenty years old, he has been needlessly incarcerated for over two years while his immigration case is pending. The announced solo-hunger strike joins a broader movement led by individuals inside detention facilities in California and nationwide, and has resulted in the liberation of mothers, fathers, and community members detained at the Mesa Verde Detention Facility in Bakersfield, CA.
In Juan Jose’s own words:
“We are more exposed to the illness here than we were before. On Sunday May 10, 2020, I decided to go on hunger strike because of these conditions. I want to change this story. I’ve been locked up a long time…ICE is exposing me to this illness, and they just don’t care. ICE says we’re a danger to society, and that we’re protected from the disease. We aren’t a danger; we are in danger. We’re in danger here because we could get sick at any moment and they putting us in greater risk. For me, deciding to go on hunger strike isn’t just for me. I’m doing it for everyone here. My voice isn’t just for me. I want people to realize that this just isn’t me and that everyone here is in danger. Here, and in Mesa Verde. We’re not safe.”
Yuba County Jail has already retaliated against Juan Jose. He has been put into medical segregation, in a freezing cold room, and threatened by ICE officials. This form of retaliation is a blatant violation of Juan Jose’s First Amendment right to protest his conditions of confinement, and is reflective of the brutality in which all detainees in this facility are being treated. The jail has a history of retaliating against organized hunger strikes, and during audits by ICE was found to have not properly investigated sexual assaults or use of force, or provide proper medical access to detainees.
The facility itself is composed of multiple pods in which dozens of individuals are kept in close quarters, with many pods adjacent to one another, allowing the free flow of air to travel between all who are confined. The facility lacks fresh air flow, is incapable of accommodating social distancing, and has been under a court ordered settlement agreement for forty years based on the inadequate conditions and mistreatment of detainees.
Kelly Wells, who represents Juan Jose with the immigration unit at the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, lauded her clients’ bravery. “What Juan Jose is doing—starting a hunger strike alone, now in complete isolation, in the face of threats and coercion from officials—is an extraordinarily brave attempt to force those in power to meet this current crisis with the requisite sense of urgency. Juan Jose came to this country alone at age 16, after surviving torture by Salvadoran authorities, only to be again placed in lethal danger by authorities. People have died in this jail because of medical neglect, even before COVID. If Yuba isn’t meeting detainees’ basic constitutional rights under normal circumstances—and federal courts have repeatedly found, over more than forty years, that it isn’t—then trapping people there during a deadly pandemic is like signing their death warrant.”
Yuba County has a contract with ICE which pays them approximately six million dollars annually to house nearly 200 immigration detainees, with a contract that is set to run until 2099. Yet the county appears to be unable or unwilling to provide adequate standards of care for those inside. Detainees in Yuba have complained of a lack of basic necessities like soap. There are now reports that facility operators have asked volunteer groups to provide masks for those inside. Yuba County should follow the example of other local jails who have terminated their ICE contracts rather than facilitate negligent care and enable needless death.
Before having the opportunity to hold their loved ones ever again, Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia and Oscar Lopez Acosta tragically passed away due to complications with COVID-19. With no testing, no reporting, no protocols, community advocates raise the question: How many individuals have actually died due to ICE’s medical negligence? While these deaths are completely preventable, ICE refuses to take protective measures to comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 guidelines.
A letter signed by 45 organizations will be delivered to Governor Gavin Newsom, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, California Members of Congress: Senator Kamala Harris, Senator Dianne Feinstein, and Congressman John Garamendi.