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New report shows ICE exacerbates suffering for detained migrants at Otay Mesa Detention Center under COVID-19

Advocates urge government representatives to take immediate action

Otay Mesa Detention Center mask delivery attempt
In late April, AFSC joined elected officials and partner organizations in an action to deliver more than 800 face masks to people detained at San Diego’s Otay Mesa Detention Center. Detention center staff refused to accept the delivery.  Photo: Pedro Rios / AFSC

SAN DIEGO, CA (October 12, 2020) The American Friends Service Committee’s (AFSC) U.S.-Mexico Border Program, Pueblo Sin Fronteras, and Detention Resistance released “Compounding Suffering During a Pandemic: A Case Study in ICE’s Detention Failures,” a report that reviews numerous migrant testimonies and public policy pertaining to the Otay Mesa Detention Center, a prison privately run by CoreCivic and contracted through the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The report concludes that under the COVID-19 pandemic, ICE and CoreCivic have exacerbated conditions that have increased suffering for those detained at the facility, which led to at least one fatality.

Read the report here:

AFSC staff and volunteers with Pueblo Sin Fronteras and Detention Resistance documented numerous complaints relating to medical neglect, faulty testing, failure to provide nutritious meals, retaliatory use of force, and abusive practices in general.

Vanessa Ceceña, Human Rights Program Associate with AFSC’s U.S.-Mexico Border Program and lead researcher for this report stated, “The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that ICE and private companies invested in profit consistently fail to protect lives – policymakers must do more to hold government agencies accountable for the suffering they encourage, and must immediately end detention.”

Edgar Reyes, formerly detained at Otay Mesa Detention Center and a member of Pueblo Sin Fronteras, recalled how, “During the time I was detained at Otay Mesa Detention Center as an asylum seeker, I witnessed a complete lack of medical attention and was myself a victim of the retaliation that CoreCivic guards and ICE officers commit against those of us who raise our voices to defend our rights and our health. I know from the detained people who have called me that things have not improved. If anything, they’ve gotten worse, and I know for a fact they’re incapable of protecting people from COVID-19.”

Ymoat Luna, collective member of Detention Resistance stated, “This administration, ICE, and CBP, have displaced and traumatized countless families through prolonged and unnecessary detention for the continued profiting of private corporations like CoreCivic, intentionally subjecting people to further harm and disregard for human life.”

The report offers the following recommendations:

  • Stop the transfers to ICE from jails/prisons and between ICE prisons. 
  • Free individuals from ICE custody by providing alternatives to detention for all currently in ICE custody, which includes releasing individuals without bond via an order of release on one’s own recognizance. 
  • Halt the arrest of migrants in communities and along the border during the COVID-19 pandemic. No one should be imprisoned during a global pandemic. 
  • Hold ICE and CoreCivic accountable for failing to protect migrants.
  • Abolish the immigration prison industrial complex, including all forms of profit from the imprisonment of migrants. 

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The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization that promotes lasting peace with justice, as a practical expression of faith in action. Drawing on continuing spiritual insights and working with people of many backgrounds, we nurture the seeds of change and respect for human life that transform social systems.

Detention Resistance (formerly the Otay Mesa Detention Resistance) is a group of community members, activists, organizing against the inhumane detentions and human rights abuses at Otay Mesa Detention Center. We are an abolitionist, non-institutional, autonomous collective organizing in accompaniment with migrants and refugees. Detention Resistance is a transformative space for movement-building alongside invisibilized voices as part of a transborder struggle with the goal of abolishing colonial walls, by exposing the violences, oppression, and exploitation experienced by our community in and out of prisons/detention centers and across nations, with the aim of empowering ourselves and each other to reclaim our right to free movement and life.

Pueblo Sin Fronteras is a transborder organization made up of human rights defenders of diverse nationalities and immigration statuses that promotes accompaniment, humanitarian assistance, leadership development, recognition of human rights, and coordination of know-your-rights training along migrant routes, as well as monitoring and raising awareness of human rights abuses against migrants and refugees in Mexico and the United States. Our accompaniment does not end at the border, it continues in the immigration detention centers of the United States and the communities in Mexico and the US. 



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