By Jonathan Lewis and Maria Pia
BAKERSFIELD AND MCFARLAND, CA – Eighty-four immigrant detainees at the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center in Bakersfield and the Golden State Annex in McFarland were participating Friday in a hunger strike, demanding the shutdown and release of all detainees from both detention centers, according to the ACLU.
The detainees claim they are subjugated to “abhorrent” and “soul-crushing” living conditions, the ACLU said in a statement Friday.
“Some of our comrades have been sent to solitary confinement and are being subjected to sexually motivated pat-downs. We are served expired food, and unable to afford overpriced commissary items, receive unsatisfactory medical attention, and are emotionally affected by the lack of visitation opportunities with our loved ones,” said the hunger strikers.
The strikers argued “our prolonged detention is unnecessary and inhumane, and we demand our collective release.”
The hunger strikers are also engaged in an ongoing “10-month long labor strike protesting $1-a-day pay for work performed by detained individuals inside the facilities, including janitorial services,” wrote the ACLU.
The strikers have been struggling in the hunger strike, charging “facility administration retaliated against the strikers by placing them in solitary confinement.”
Federal complaints have been filed to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, noted the ACLU.
The complaints caused 16 members of the California Congressional Delegation to urge DHS to “shut down both facilities if the allegations [concerning disturbing conditions and retaliatory behavior] prove to be true.”
The prisons are owned and operated by the GEO Group, a private prison contractor, which was fined $104,510 in January after California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or CAL/OSHA, discovered six state code violations.
The inspection was conducted after they heard complaints about “the dangerous working conditions, including exposure to black mold,” said the ACLU.
The Mesa Verde-Golden State Annex (MV-GSA) Hunger Strike Support Coalition, a “coalition of civil rights and legal organizations supporting the strike, [are] demanding ICE immediately release all hunger strikers and all individuals who have already won their immigration cases,” wrote the ACLU.
The MV-GSA Hunger Strike Support Committee includes 17 organizations, with the first three listed as the ACLU Foundation of Northern California, Asian Americans Advancing Justice–Asian Law Caucus, and California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice.
The coalition said it will continue to support the strikers’ nearly one-year battle over unfair treatment and conditions. The hunger strike may be tracked on the following website (MV-GSA Hunger Strike).
Gustavo Adolfo Flores Coreas and Rigoberto Hernandez Martinez are two detained immigrants part of the 84-person hunger strike. Martinez is currently at the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center, while Coreas used to be there but is now at the Golden State Annex.
Coreas told The Fresno Bee last Thursday that he started skipping meals to avoid “abusive pat-downs” by the GEO Group’s guards. “I didn’t want to be excessively touched,” Coreas said.
Martinez, who arrived at Mesa Verde in winter and recalled how cold it was inside the facility, told The Fresno Bee it took seven days before he was visited by a doctor after being “very sick.” The wait to visit a specialist, according to him, was around five months.
A GEO Group spokesperson told The Fresno Bee last Friday the company “strongly rejects these baseless allegations.”
Detained immigrants have already experienced considerable retribution since the start of their work strike, according to Minju Cho, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California’s Immigrants’ Rights Program.
The ACLU believes that immigration detention is inhumane, and even if it still occurs in California, Cho told The Fresno Bee, “[w]e are committed to doing our part to ensure conditions are safe and as humane as possible.”
According to The Fresno Bee, the demands of the strikers include the immediate release of those who are currently in custody, payment of the $15.50 minimum wage for imprisoned immigrants, better working conditions, quick access to medical care, and fresh, quality food.