ICE Detainees Hunger Strike at Yuba County Jail Over ‘Horrific’ Conditions
By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau
MARYSVILLE – In the shadow of reports of inhumane treatment of children and other migrant detainees at the border, more than a dozen migrant ICE civil detainees housed here at the Yuba County Jail began yet another hunger strike June 30 – their third in 10 months – because of continuing “horrific” conditions.
As of Thursday, 16 detainees were still refusing to eat. The hunger strike last February also originally had about 40 detainees refusing food – but the numbers dwindled when the county fought back by transferring a key organizer to another jail out-of-state, and segregated the others.
“We have an infestation of cockroaches in our beds and food; the cells have no water and we’re treated like criminals,” wrote one migrant detainee in a letter secreted out of the Yuba County facility. Others on strike complained lack of visitation, difficulty in speaking with legal help and not being allowed, as required, more time out of their cells.
“As we celebrate the Fourth of July, immigration detention has become one of the most egregious forms of mass incarceration in the United States. Over 440,000 immigrants are detained in this country each year, far more than anywhere else in the world,” said Rhonda Rios Kravitz, of CIDR (Campaign for Immigration Detention Reform), which organized a press conference this week in front of the Yuba County Jail.
“We cannot stand idly by and watch in silence as unjust immigration laws damage our communities and our nation. It is imperative that we eliminate mass deportations, which obstruct the development of children, destroy families, and further jeopardize vulnerable populations, The crisis surrounding our country’s immigration system has reached a breaking point and now, more than ever, we need to stand together and make our voices heard.
“Whether they are immigrants detained in our jails or detention centers, fathers and mothers trying to provide better lives for their families, or young children escaping violence and persecution in their homelands, we need our government to act with compassion and treat those coming to our country with dignity and respect. We need people to stand and voice their dissent,” said Rios Kravitz.
Among the speakers from the social justice community was Regina Banks, director of the Lutheran Office of Public Police in Sacramento, who noted that she was “appalled and heartbroken” at what was happening at the Yuba Jail to migrant civil detainees.
“This is a call for humane treatment and an end to these horrific conditions…the Administration policies are evil, and this is a humanitarian crisis,” she said
“This jail has been under a court order for 40 years to improve conditions; however, conditions are still horrific. Ongoing inspections by ICE and the Yuba County Grand Jury (did) not adequately identify the pervasive and troubling conditions at this facility,” added Rios Kravitz..
She said the jail continues to receive funding from ICE – Yuba County banks about $5 million a year to reserve 180 bed for migrant civil detainees – because the inspections are pre-planned and designed to give the jail minimal passing grades.
“The county budget is a moral document, too,” said Carlos Montes Ponce of CIDR, asking, “And why are we detaining people not part of this country?”
Janeth Rodriguez, of CIDR and Sacramento Immigration Coalition (SIC), had another question.
“Is this what we stand for on the 4th of July? This treatment is all being done in our name,” Rodriguez said.
CIDR is urging quick change to preserve the rights of the migrants in the jail, including that the jail be placed on probation and subject to more intensive, unplanned inspections. And that the inspections should be transparent, made available to the public.
“ICE has released its inspections to the public only as a result of Freedom of Information Act – FOIA requests – (and) has made it excessively difficult to access information about how it and its contractors, in this case the Yuba County Sheriff and Jail, treat the people in its custody and how it spends taxpayer dollars,” said Rio Kravitz.
CIDR is also demanding the jail release to the public information on all suicide attempts, hunger strikes, work program stoppages, use of solitary conﬁnement, use of force, and other signiﬁcant events at the jail at least twice a year.
There’s been, according to CIDR, 42 suicide attempts at the jail – the latest in May.
CIDR wants a Department of Homeland Security ombudsman outside of ICE to conduct unannounced inspections of the jail not less than once per year, with complete ﬁndings made available to the public. These third-party inspections should “examine compliance with all aspects of applicable detention standards and determine whether contracts will be renewed as stipulated in congressional appropriations.”
Finally, if changes are not made within 60 days, the ICE contract with the jail should be cancelled.
“They are putting their bodies on the line,” Scott Haskins, a minister with the SIC, said about the hunger strikers.
“This is a demand for basic human dignity…these are drastic measures because something is drastically wrong” inside the jail, Haskins added. “We need to say no more.”
The demands of immigrants in detention include:
- Ending punitive conditions.
- Providing contact visits. Enabling fathers and mothers to hold their children in designated rooms.
- Immediately improve medical, mental health and dental treatment. Medical requests are not honored for weeks including needed visits to a doctor and need for prescriptions.
- Increasing phone access and reduced exorbitant prices for use. Honor requests for use within 24 hours.
- Addressing maintenance issues in a timely manner, e.g., toilets in need of immediate repair.
- Addressing unsanitary conditions due to infestation of cockroaches under mattresses, in food tray carts and in commissary bags.
- Addressing exorbitant commissary prices.
“We will not turn a blind eye amid the cruel, degrading and inhumane treatment of our immigrant community members in detention at Yuba County Jail,” said Rios Kravitz.
“As the nation (celebrates) Independence Day on July 4, thousands of immigrants are being locked up and families are being torn apart. Right here in Marysville, about 180 immigrants are being detained daily in poor conditions. These are fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters who have been taken from their loved ones,” she added.