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Marysville, CA, December 28, 2020 – Yuba County Sheriff Wendell Anderson is presiding over a humanitarian catastrophe at the Yuba County Jail, as COVID-19 is tearing through the facility. At least 78 people in the jail have tested positive for COVID-19, three of them in ICE custody. In addition, at least 13 staff members have tested positive over the past few weeks.

Detained individuals have reported an inability to socially distance, being forced to use the same cloth masks for months, and being deprived access to cleaning and hygiene supplies such as soap and cleaning products. Jail officials have continued to move people between housing units, exacerbating the likelihood of exposure to the virus.

Some in ICE custody have been placed in punitive 23-hour lockdown, including those who are in medical isolation. The first immigrants in ICE custody to contract the virus both reported that their medical isolation cells had not been cleaned prior to their arrival, with food, hair, fingernails, and dirt littered about. Both requested cleaning supplies for several days before receiving them, and were then forced to clean their own cells and shared bathroom whilst battling the virus. One of these men, 59 year-old diabetic Ruperto Robles, was not even informed of his own COVID-positive status for almost 48 hours.

Yuba County Jail has a long history of systematic medical neglect, such that the facility has been under a court order, meant to improve and monitor conditions, for over 40 years.

The jail population includes 21 individuals in ICE custody, some of whom are elderly and/or medically vulnerable, who are being held in civil detention despite the fact that ICE has discretion to release them. Over the past months, immigrants in the facility have staged hunger strikes to protest systemic mistreatment and the jail’s and ICE’s mishandling of the threat posed by COVID. Despite their efforts and community support, the Yuba County Sheriff has done little to keep the facility safe or sanitary, and ICE has refused to act within its power to release individuals and/or to hold the jail accountable. 

California communities have ended multiple contracts with ICE in the last five years, and passed legislation preventing new contracts with the troubled agency. Instead of following in the footsteps of counties like Sacramento, Contra Costa, and Orange, Yuba County signed a controversial contract with ICE through 2099. Community members are urging that the contract be terminated. 

In addition, those in ICE custody have highlighted eight urgent demands, which they have also shared with jail leadership:

  • Free everyone in ICE custody
  • Provide N-95 Masks to all those in custody ASAP
  • Promptly communicate updates about COVID-19 spread to community members in ICE custody
  • Ensure regular, immediate communication between ICE and Yuba County Jail
  • Cease transfers between housing units
  • Reduce population so that people can actually socially distance
  • Honor legal and family calls at their exact, scheduled times 
  • Allow for an independent inspector to conduct unannounced inspections of conditions 

Community members and loved ones stand ready to support individuals should ICE act in its discretion to release them, offering transportation, hotel rooms, and other support. In addition, Faithful Friends has contacted Captain Allan Garza, offering to donate hundreds of KN95 or disposable masks for all detained people and staff members and are awaiting a response.

For more information: California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice: www.ccijustice.org