By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
MARYSVILLE, CA – Hunger strikes in the suffrage, civil rights, farmworker and other social justice movements in the U.S. have helped lead to great change, and maybe a six-day effort – now over – for more humane treatment by ICE immigrant detainees in Yuba County Jail over the last week will help reform a jail that is known for its ill treatment of prisoners.
It’s hard to tell. But the nearly 50 detainees reportedly quit eating out of quiet desperation because of inhumane jail conditions. Not one of them is at the jail after being convicted of a crime – they are all civil ICE detainees awaiting hearings.
The hunger strike here at the Yuba County Jail ended late Friday when jail officials met with immigrant civil detainees and promised to take their demands seriously.
In a true sense, the jail owes a lot to the detainees because it pockets about half its budget – or about $6.5 million a year – for housing ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) detainees. About 170 people are being held for ICE at the Yuba County Jail, which reserves about 400 beds for ICE detainees.
The jail didn’t make it easy for the political detainees over this past week. It sent hunger strike leader Carlos Sauceda off to an unknown jail to diminish his leadership with other detainees, and isolated the remaining hunger strikers.
One support group, NorCal Resist, called it retaliation, and expressed concern for keeping Sauceda “safe” – noting that ICE has threatened hunger strikers in El Paso with deportation, and has been engaging in extremely painful force-feeding in that facility.
After the strike ended late Friday, NorCal Resist issued this statement:
“While we are encouraged to hear the Yuba County Jail has met with hunger strikers and is taking their issues seriously, we will continue to closely watch the facility. There are changes that can be made at Yuba County Jail that will make the jail safer and more habitable, but ultimately, we stand against any system that incentivizes struggling, often rural, local communities to take part in the unjust system of migrant detention.”
NorCal Resist took issue earlier this week with the Sheriff, who characterized nearly half of the hunger striker as criminals/gang affiliated and defended the jail from longstanding accusations of lack of healthcare, and other related problems.
“ICE often wrongly and incorrectly classifies folks as gang-affiliated simply based on where they are from in the US and their ethnic or national background. Many folks being classified as MS-13 have absolutely no gang affiliations. Others may have had affiliations as youth but are no longer involved in any gang or criminal activity and are seeking to better themselves.
“Substandard health care, poor and unsanitary conditions, and other issues raised by the detained folks are also shared by the general population inmates. Folks report to us that they have requested to see a nurse or medical professional multiple times because of a serious health condition without acknowledgment from the Jail. No one deserves this kind of substandard care,” said NorCal Resist.
NorCal Resist repeated its accusations, specially that 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.
“The Yuba County Jail is rife with constitutional violations,” said Dr. Rhonda Rios Kravitz, who 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.
At a press conference Thursday, speakers condemned Yuba County Jail.
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.
“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 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.
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.”
“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.
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.