Tue Jul 23, 2024
July 23, 2024

Detained immigrants relaunch labor strike at ICE detention centers in California


Strikers are demanding an end to ICE detention centers, release from detention, an end to solitary confinement, restoration of free phone calls, and for ICE to stop violating its own standards.

McFARLAND and BAKERSIELD, Calif., July 1 — Today, 59 workers detained at Golden State Annex (GSA) and Mesa Verde immigrant detention centers in McFarland and Bakersfield, respectively, launched a labor strike to protest worsening conditions, ongoing retaliation, prolonged detention and the revocation of access to free phone calls. GEO Group, the private prison company that operates the facility for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), exploits detained workers’ labor by paying them just one dollar a day to do work that is essential to the maintenance of the detention center and therefore to GEO Group’s profits and ICE’s mission to torture and deport immigrants.

A group of the labor strikers issued the following statement:

Time, experiences and conditions in Golden State Annex have given shape to a collective, peaceful and voluntary work stoppage to raise awareness of ongoing issues. The goal is to reach a complete and entirely fair agreement with the administration and ICE Director Patrick J. Lechleitner and ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations San Francisco Field Office Director Moises Becerra to ensure our safety and health by meeting with us and addressing the following five demands:

  • End the Mesa Verde and Golden State Annex ICE Detention Contracts by December 2024
  • Freedom: Review our cases for release fairly
  • End Solitary Confinement
  • Stop Violating Your Own Standards: ensure adequate medical care, mental health care and food, and end retaliation
  • Phone calls: stop charging us to call our families, lawyers and communities

As the presidential election approaches, the Biden administration’s doubling-down on anti-immigrant policies has directly impacted the lives of people held at GSA and Mesa Verde. A federal inspection report released earlier this year revealed that GSA did not comply with all of ICE’s detention standards and ICE paid an excess of $25.3 million in taxpayer money for empty beds at GSA. Since the inspection, ICE has sent far more people to GSA, increasing the population by around 200% and exacerbating pre-existing problems and abuses inside the facility. Already inadequate medical care has become even more unacceptable, with mix-ups in medical records and multiple COVID-19 outbreaks in the past year.

In April, after several protests over worsening conditions, prison guards in riot gear stormed one of the dorms at GSA, physically assaulting, pepper spraying and handcuffing people detained there. GEO Group then sentenced four individuals to a month in solitary confinement where they spent at least 22 hours a day alone in a cell. Last month, ICE took away detained immigrants’ access to free phone calls, which many people relied upon to speak with their families, communities and lawyers. Unfair custody reviews by ICE and case adjudications by immigration judges have resulted in prolonged detention, keeping people locked up for years and intensifying the impact of these inhumane conditions.

“I feel like it’s wrong for ICE to overpay GEO $25 million for empty beds and yet they fail to provide us basic hygiene items like toilet paper, soap and cleaning equipment,” said Oscar Ernesto Lopez Santos, currently detained at Golden State Annex. “On top of that, they took away the free phone minute program. Some people haven’t been able to speak to their family for almost a month, which is taking a serious toll on their mental health, and ICE and GEO just point fingers at each other. We’re tired of it, we want answers, we want to shut this place down, and we want to hold ICE and GEO accountable for everything that they’ve done and everything that they continue to do.”

Guillermo M Reyes, a San José resident who was released from Golden State Annex last year, supports the labor strikers. He said, “during my 16 months in detention, I witnessed severe medical negligence, staff mistreatment, and discriminatory practices by ICE. The wages paid for our labor were akin to slavery, and the cost of food was exorbitantly high, with many items being spoiled or rotten. There were no COVID-19 protocols in place, putting all of us at risk. Despite organizing a labor strike and subsequently a hunger strike, the inhumane conditions never improved. Instead of responding to our pleas for help with improvements, ICE resorted to violence and retaliation. Now, they are taking away free phone calls, further isolating detainees from their loved ones. This tactic causes immense anxiety, stress, hopelessness, and depression, affecting not just the detainees but their entire families. It is imperative that these grave injustices are addressed.”

The labor strikers’ stated demands for ICE Director Patrick J. Lechleitner and ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations San Francisco Field Office Director Moises Becerra are:

  • TERMINATE THE CONTRACT: End the Mesa Verde and Golden State Annex ICE Detention contracts by December 2024, because there is no humane way to run these places. In the meantime, we demand:
  • FREEDOM: Review our cases for release fairly, including our 6-month ICE custody reviews.
  • END SOLITARY CONFINEMENT: Solitary confinement is torture.
  • STOP VIOLATING YOUR OWN STANDARDS: including those that require you to provide us with adequate medical and mental health care and nutritious and unexpired food, and those that prohibit you from retaliating against us and our loved ones physically and psychologically for speaking out when you violate these standards.
  • PHONE CALLS: Stop charging us to call our families, lawyers, and communities.

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