One of Last Remaining ICE Detainees at Yuba County Jail Should be Released Now as New COVID Outbreak Hits Facility, Urge SF Public Defenders

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By The Vanguard Staff

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) should immediately release health-challenged Ricardo Vasquez Cruz – one of three remaining civil immigration detainees in Yuba County Jail – as a new COVID outbreak hits the facility, said the San Francisco Public Defender Office this week.

The SFPD, which represents Vasquez, 46, said he “suffers from medical issues that render him particularly vulnerable to the virus.”

“Ricardo has been detained by ICE unnecessarily for over three years…in light of the new risk to his health posed by the COVID outbreak in his jail, we…call on ICE to immediately release Ricardo to his family where he can properly care for his health and can continue to fight for his legal right to remain in the U.S., his home for the past 22 years. Enough is enough,” said Deputy Public Defender Jennifer Friedman, from the SFPD Immigration Defense Unit.

Friedman, who represents Vasquez in his deportation case, said he is fighting to remain with his family in the U.S. after an alcohol-related arrest in 2017 jeopardized his immigration status. His deportation case is currently on appeal at the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) for a second time. Vasquez has been held for three years at Yuba Jail, which has an ICE contract to hold detainees.

Throughout the pandemic, Yuba County Jail – which has been accused by courts and advocates of providing poor health care and harboring squalid conditions – has suffered COVID outbreaks. In January, at least 70 detainees and 13 staff members fell ill.

The SFPD said it has been involved in litigation to protect the health and safety of immigrants detained at Yuba County Jail, leading to a significant depopulation of the facility. Vasquez remains.

“Vasquez hopes to be released to his home with his aging mother, adolescent son, and siblings in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he can continue to participate in AA, return to his career, care for his health and his loved ones, and continue to fight his deportation case,” said the SFPD in a statement.

Vasquez said he feels he may die at Yuba County Jail.

“They moved us to a tiny corner of the jail. It feels like a punishment being here. For the past year, I’ve been having health problems and asking for the doctors to figure out what’s been going on. I feel like I could die in here and no one would notice. Now there is COVID all over the place in here,” he said through his legal counsel.

“After over three years, it is time to release Ricardo to his family instead of subjecting him to needless detention that threatens his health and well-being,” said Francisco Ugarte, Managing Attorney of the Immigration Defense Unit.

Vasquez, who live the SF Bay Area since 1999 after fleeing El Salvador, where gangs, according to his lawyer, assaulted him and murdered his brother. “He obtained temporary protected status in the U.S. and built a family and career as a sound communications engineer,” said the SFPD.

Vasquez had alcohol-related arrests in 2016 and 2017, and served six months in jail. And even though a   June 2021 evaluation by a licensed clinical psychologist, noted was “at low risk for alcohol relapse and even lower risk of engaging in violent behavior,” ICE won’t release him, said SFPD.

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