By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
MARYSVILLE, CA – Jails are dreary places, but the Yuba County Jail here late on a rainy Valentine’s Day Thursday was especially depressing – but probably not as dark as that of dozens of hunger striking ICE (Immigrant and Customs Enforcement) detainees who entered Day 5 of the protest calling for more humane conditions.
And, as those attending a news conference in front of the jail would be told, the ICE detainees are now continuing without their leader, Carlos Sauceda, who was transferred out of Yuba County Jail to an unknown jail for organizing the protest.
“He shared truthful details…of the abuse of authority and inhumane treatment (and) then he was all of sudden transferred,” said his wife Yahaira in a letter read by a tearful Clara Paterson. “The Yuba County Jail staff can be made an example of for all detainee centers,” she continued, outlining the lack of medical care that Sauceda has endured in his 18-month ICE hold stay at the jail.
Sauceda was released from prison in November of 2017 after about two decades of incarceration. He was immediately picked up by ICE. But he’s been wrongly classified as a gang member based on old tattoos, said NorCal Resist, an immigration support group that claims he gave that all up in prison, where he reformed, earned his college degree and worked on a gang-prevention program.
Wherever Sauceda is at now after his transfer, his punishment is not unique. In El Paso, hunger strikers are being force-fed after more than 45 days of hunger striking, and are being threatened with immediate deportation.
Conditions in the Yuba County Jail are inhumane, with civil detainees not receiving medical or dental care, treated like criminals not civil detainees, living in deplorable, unsanitary conditions with blocked toilets, and other health and safety issues, according to support organizations.
The Yuba County Jail “continues to break the law…it is unsafe, and unsanitary,” charged Mahmoud Zahriya of CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations). “It’s hell on earth inside.” Those inside have to “literally starve themselves,” to make the conditions better, he said.
Zahriya also revealed that although the jail banks $6.5 million providing nearly half its beds for ICE detainees – half its budget – inmates do everything from handling utensils to paperwork because the jail is so understaffed.
“Now is the time to shine a bright light publicly on what is happening at the jail and to hold the County accountable. The need for accountability and transparency has never been greater, and the stakes could not be higher for those imprisoned in this jail particularly immigrant detainees. In the words of Carlos Sauceda, all they want is ‘to be treated humanely,’” said Dr. Rhonda Rios Kravitz of Step Up.
“The detainees are taking these actions to make a difference in the lives of those detained here in the Yuba County Jail by shining a light on the dangerous conditions that exist. When detainees resort to drastic measures such as stopping eating there are reasons — there are things that are forcing them to it, and it is incumbent upon the Sheriff, the Jail Commander, the Grand Jury, the Board of Supervisors and our elected officials on a local state, and national level to investigate the situation,” added Rios Kravitz.
Life in the Yuba County Jail is “pure torture” where guards use Gestapo tactics,” said Julie Withers-Garza of NorCal Resist, comparing the jail to the Nazi in Germany. “People knew, and just sat around while Jews, Gays and others were targeted and removed. I shouldn’t and won’t have an appetite tonight” while people are on the hunger strike, she said.
Withers-Garza explained to the dozen or so onlookers and news media that “stigmatizing people all comes down to money, not keeping us safe.” She said the Clinton Administration in 1996 changed the laws, and those considered illegal aliens would be free, waiting to have their immigration status decided. In 1996 that changed. Now they can be detained for years.
Carlos Montes-Ponce of Sacramento ACT added that “anyplace is better than here,” standing in front of the entrance to the jail. “This facility should be closed down.”
John Hershey, also with NorCal Resist, also said claims by the jail that the ICE detainees were gang members is “misleading” and “a racist tactic.” He said detainees are not convicted of any crime but treated like criminals, yet they don’t have access to healthcare, education, fresh air, the sun because they’re “often on 19-hour lockdown.”
“To policymakers, jailers and the public alike, the appearance of shackled immigrants in prison garb feeds the misconception that most detainees threaten public safety and national security. The overwhelming majority do not. contrary to the sheriff’s assertion that they threaten public safety,” said Rios Kravitz.
Earlier, she noted: “The Yuba County Jail is rife with constitutional violations, and then described a litany of wrongs at the jail she said has been a target of the courts and organizations for decades.
“For 40 years conditions have not changed. They are brutal and they are inhumane,” she said, noting there have been at least 41 suicide attempts at the jail since 2014, and that a UC Berkeley literature grad student committed suicide in the jail in January 2017 while locked in a rubber “safety” cell.
Rios Kravitz criticized the Sheriff who has proudly said the jail is inspected. But, clarified Rios Kravitz, the jail failed those inspections.
“What he did not do is tell you the results of those inspections. The latest inspection report available online stated and I quote: ‘The existing mental health and medical treatment, dental treatment, medical holding, medical and mental health beds, inmate programs, staff support, and laundry spaces are all deficient or non-existent in this facility.’”
She said the inspection by ICE’s office of Detention Oversight and Compliance from 2017, obtained by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) – “the only way we can get transparency from ICE” – found “the facility was only compliant with six of the 16 standards, 10 of the standards were found to be deficient (and) 18 deficiencies were found in those 10 standards, three related to sexual abuse and assault prevention and intervention. The 2014 inspection by ICE found six standards out of 15 to be deficient. Conditions in 2017 only got worse,” she said.
Rios Kravitz added, “Obviously, these inspections are not inspections that Yuba can be proud of. No wonder the current sheriff did not cite these results in his recent press release. What is clear that the system of monitoring and inspections is woefully inadequate and fails to address even the most serious issues, including the one tragic death at this facility and the 41 attempted suicides over the last 5 years. The demands of the detainees need to be addressed.”