by Hamid Yazdan Panah
The Yuba County Jail is notorious for its horrific conditions. Anyone who has ever visited or toured the facility can attest to the suffocating nature of the facility, with those detained unable to access fresh air from a window or catch sight of a blade of grass anywhere on site. The conditions in the facility are so bad that it has been under a court ordered consent decree for 40 years.
The County Jail also has a contract with Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE), to house nearly 200 immigrants in civil detention. Immigrants in detention are awaiting civil proceedings, as opposed to serving a sentence, yet throughout the country they are held in penal institutions like the Yuba County jail. Over the last few years immigrants in the facility have staged multiple
hunger strikes to protest the conditions and mistreatment in Yuba.
The contract with ICE is set to run until 2099 and nets the county more than six million dollars annually. But at what cost? As COVID-19 begins to spread in detention facilities ICE has shown an unwillingness to take proactive measures. Instead it continues to shuffle detainees between multiple facilities, threatening their lives and the lives of staff.
In continuing to contract with ICE the county has a duty to ensure the health and safety of those it holds in detention, a charge which may prove impossible in the coming weeks.Detainees in Yuba have complained of a lack of basic necessities like soap. There are now reports that facility operators have asked volunteer groups to provide masks for those inside.
ICE has shown no willingness to mitigate the threat of COVID-19, and is likely to place the burden and liability of dealing with the virus on subcontractors like the county. If the virus spreads in the facility it will be local hospitals and community that pays the price, not ICE.
The Yuba County Supervisors should follow the example of Monroe County in Florida, who recently decided to end their 23 year contract with ICE. That county saw the writing on the wall, it is time Yuba follows suit.
Hamid Yazdan Panah is the Advocacy Director for Immigrant Defense Advocates.
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