Bakersfield, CA, July 3, 2020 – Today, immigrants in every dormitory at the Mesa Verde Detention Center launched a new hunger strike to demand their freedom and to urge concrete action to protect their lives.
In a statement, the group warned of worsening, dangerously unsanitary conditions at Mesa Verde, where a health worker tested positive for COVID-19 just a few weeks ago:
Many of our toilets don’t work, and some of us are forced to share just 2 toilets and 1 urinal with dozens of people. Our bathroom floors are covered in disgusting standing water, filled with mosquitos and crickets. We are forced to live with the constant smell of dead animals.
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.
Immigrants at the facility have also been calling on the California Governor and Attorney General for months to end transfers from state prisons into ICE detention, investigate these unsafe conditions, and hold ICE and GEO accountable. To date, they have failed to take any action.
The total number of COVID-19 cases confirmed in ICE detention 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: “We stand in solidarity with the San Quentin hunger strikers, and anyone else in any other facility participating in a hunger strike,” said Asif Qazi, who is detained at Mesa Verde. “We demand that they also be released, and in the meantime, that the conditions there improve.”
One month ago, immigrants at the facility, including Black immigrants, made history when they held the first known Black Lives Matter protest inside an ICE detention center. ICE attempted to defame immigrants who organized the hunger strike with false claims, but after further reporting, ICE changed its story. Advocates caution that the agency has a long record of attempting to deceive the public and the press.
Incarcerated immigrants and advocates are increasingly calling out the ways that policing and incarceration, by design, have criminalized Black people and communities of color – including Black immigrants and other immigrants of color. A 2016 report by the Black Alliance for Just Immigration found “while Black immigrants make up only 7.2% of the noncitizen population in the U.S., they make up 20.3% of immigrants facing deportation … on criminal grounds.”
The Mesa Verde hunger strike also comes in conjunction with national days of action on July 3-4, spearheaded by art In Plain Sight, a collaboration of 80 artists working to #FreeThemAll and #AbolishICE.
In ICE detention, like other forms of incarceration, people are kept in closely together by design, making distancing impossible. Detained people have also denounced the lack of masks and soap. Medical neglect makes it easy for COVID-19 to spread, which puts both detained people and the surrounding community at risk. ICE systematically deprives thousands of immigrants of liberty each day, with rampant medical neglect. Yet prison companies are shamefully turning a profit off of the suffering of community members — at the expense of community well-being and resources.
Founded in 1969, Centro Legal de la Raza is a legal services agency protecting and advancing the rights of low-income, immigrant, Black and Latinx communities through bilingual legal representation, education, and advocacy. www.centrolegal.org