Detained immigrants asked to be kept safe in the pandemic, but they got pepper-sprayed instead

Detained immigrants asked to be kept safe in the pandemic, but they got pepper-sprayed instead

Immigrants detained at several detention facilities in California last year held hunger strikes, prayer vigils, and other peaceful demonstrations to draw attention to dangerous conditions amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. Their message to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and detention sites was an urgent one: Our lives are at risk. Please do something to keep us safe.

But in a complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Foundation of Northern California and legal partners, detained immigrants say that officials instead retaliated against them, inflicting pepper spray and shooting pepper bullets, revoking access to lawyers and advocates, denying access to food items and medical care, even “confiscating prescription medication and walking canes.”

Lilian Marquez was among the detained immigrants early last spring engaged in a hunger strike at the privately operated Mesa Verde Detention Center in California. The Fresno Bee reported she consumed just water and vitamins for four days, joining a strike only after verbal and written complaints to officials went unheeded. But rather than addressing their concerns, officials threatened to shut down commissary access—thus blocking food and essential toiletries—and marking their files, “which they understood would affect their efforts at getting released as well as the outcomes of their deportation proceedings,” documents said.

ICE’s threats worked for a while, as officials also continued transfers that worsened the caseload at the GEO Group-operated facility. “On April 13, 2020, the strikers in Dorms C and D prematurely suspended their hunger strike in response to these threats of retaliation of being deprived of access to the commissary. Meanwhile, ICE continued to transfer in unscreened noncitizens, and the facilities remained dangerously crowded.” But documents said that days after a woman attempted suicide at the facility, Marquez and others relaunched their strike.

“I felt that my life was in danger, and I had no out, no options,” Marquez told The Bee. “We felt that our voices needed to be heard, and we needed help. (The hunger strike) was the only way that we were able to express our free speech.” ICE officials, because they’re both callous and liars, at one point claimed there were no hunger strikes at all at Mesa Verde. 

“ICE and GEO’s systemic failures in ensuring the safety and health of individuals at Mesa Verde culminated in the COVID-19 outbreaks at the facility in 2020,” documents said. “In August 2020, a court found ICE to have acted with medical indifference towards the detained people at Mesa Verde and ordered that it be closed for intake. Noting that ICE had ‘avoided widespread testing, not for lack of tests, but for fear that positive test results would require them to implement safety measures that they apparently felt were not worth the trouble,’ the court ordered the facility to halt intake of new individuals.”

The ACLU was among the organizations that also sued for the release of immigrants detained at several facilities, including Mesa Verde, calling actions against detained immigrants “brazen, callous, and unconstitutional. Plaintiffs were forced to choose between exercising their right to speech or maintaining their access to essential commissary items. Defendants’ actions had their desired chilling effect on plaintiffs’ exercise of their First Amendment rights. As a result of defendants’ retaliation, many plaintiffs stopped their hunger strike.”

But officials had no qualms about retaliating against detained immigrants because they do it all the time. When women detained at the privately operated Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Georgia complained of abuse at the hands of notorious gynecologist Mahendra Amin, officials similarly retaliated. Documents said that two women “were deported within a day after they spoke out or confirmed that they had spoken out about medical abuses at ICDC.”​ Officials also threatened to cut off access to the commissary and even water. Government watchdogs have already confirmed ICE has retaliated with force—and it retaliates against people not in its custody, too.

@DHSOIG just published a damning report of horrendous conditions in immigration detention in Eloy, AZ, describing abuses and medical neglect – things we have known for years. This picture says it all. pic.twitter.com/HdgmxKmXAZ

— Jorge Loweree (@JorgeLoweree) April 1, 2021

One recent report said court filings and internal government records revealed “a sustained campaign of ICE surveillance and repression against advocacy groups and activists,” including targeting prominent activist Maru Mora-Villalpando in Washington and the Migrant Justice organization in Vermont. In emails, officials wrote that throwing Mora-Villalpando into deportation proceedings “might actually take away some of her ‘clout.’” In the case of the latter, officials told people they detained “that fellow Migrant Justice members would be the ‘next to go,’” the report said. Migrant Justice would eventually sue ICE for harassing the group, settling for $100,000.

It’s long been clear that ICE is the actual public safety threat, yet the Biden administration’s first full budget request failed to slash ICE’s funding. “It’s always a good time to defund this agency,” New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently told Latino Rebels. She correctly said that ICE “regularly violates human rights. And it continues to do so under the Biden administration as well.” Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib told Latino Rebels she’s “very much about abolishing ICE, period.” ICE would very much love for you to believe that’s a radical stance when in reality, it’s a relatively recent agency that’s only been around since 2003. Own any songs from Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time” or “Oops!… I Did It Again” albums? Those are older than ICE.

Immigrants need accountability now. In their statement, the ACLU Foundation of Northern California, the California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice, Centro Legal De La Raza, the ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties, and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California said that they’re “calling for the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties to conduct a thorough investigation of these claims and take immediate action to protect the right of individuals in detention to engage in peaceful protests.”

From Daily Kos at Read More. This article is republished from DailyKos under an open content license. Read the original article at DailyKos.

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