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Protests in San Francisco & Fresno Call on Congress to Hold ICE Accountable for Abuse

Media Contacts:

Alex Mensing, California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice, alex[@], 415.684.5463

Marinarde Soto, Community Organizer, 559.691.7937, marinardesoto[@]

Six months after the launch of a hunger strike to protest conditions at two Central Valley detention centers, ICE and private prison company GEO Group continue to evade accountability

San Francisco, CA – In the six months since more than 70 individuals launched a hunger strike at two Central Valley immigrant detention centers, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and private prison contractor GEO Group (GEO) have failed to halt systemic abuses exposed by detained individuals, community organizations and Members of Congress. After facing brutal retaliation including solitary confinement, violent transfers and threats of force feeding, migrants detained at Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center (Mesa Verde) and Golden State Annex (Golden State) paused their hunger strike, but ICE and GEO have not paused the harms they inflict upon people in their custody every single day.

The ongoing abuse at Mesa Verde and Golden State is reminiscent of the "'barbaric' and 'negligent' conditions uncovered in a recent NPR investigation, which published “previously secret inspection reports written by experts hired by the Department of Homeland Security's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties” that they obtained only after suing the Biden administration, which had refused to release the reports.

Today, around 50 people including individuals formerly detained by ICE as well as community members protested the ongoing abuse outside the San Francisco ICE office and another group protested outside their office in Fresno, CA.

“ICE hires private contractors such as GEO to detain us under their own hidden agenda, and they do what they please to us and to our bodies as if we’re their property. We’re dehumanized and violated, and they put their hands on places on my body while they are patting me down multiple times a day,” said Mohamed, who spoke to protesters over the phone from inside Mesa Verde where he is currently detained. He continued, “when I spoke up, I received disciplinary hearing reports and was accused of trying to hinder the running of this facility here at Mesa Verde. When I brought up the issue to ICE, they told me to talk to GEO about it. Bringing awareness to a concern behind these walls automatically makes you the troublemaker. They don’t bother to hear what the concern consists of.”

In a previously unpublished May 4, 2023 letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and ICE Acting Director Tae Johnson, six California Congressmembers called for a DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) investigation to include a “full and complete review of both facilities [Mesa Verde and Golden State].” If the investigation–which is currently underway–confirms detained migrants’ reports of ongoing retaliation and abuse, including sexually abusive pat downs, the Congressmembers reiterated their “call for DHS to, as swiftly as possible, end contracts with GEO for Mesa Verde and Golden State.” People detained at Mesa Verde and Golden State are counting on Congress to hold ICE and GEO accountable for the abuse, which continues under the watch of San Francisco ICE Field Office Director Moises Becerra and Deputy Field Office Director Richard Chang.

“During our hunger strike, Richard Chang came to our cell block to ‘hear us out.’ We asked for the sexually abusive pat downs to stop. He acted like he was going to make things right, but instead we experienced more retaliation, including violent transfers,” said José Rubén, who was detained at Mesa Verde from November 2021 to April 2023. “Since my release I have continued to fight for immigrants who are still detained, including by seeking accountability through my congressional representatives. Unfortunately, ICE higher-ups like Richard Chang have only misled them. Where’s the accountability? The only way to obtain justice is by shutting down these detention centers.”

Mesa Verde and Golden State fall within the purview of San Francisco’s ICE Field Office. As such, Becerra and Chang oversee both facilities, and by failing to hold ICE and GEO officers accountable for their retaliation and abuse against detained immigrants, they are committing grave injustices (and potentially criminal harm). Becerra and Chang have refused to answer basic questions about facility conditions and agency misconduct. They cite ongoing litigation, but there is no lawsuit that would prevent them from complying with basic standards of transparency.

Gustavo, who is currently detained at Golden State Annex, also called into the protest to speak with those gathered. “For the past 17 months I have been in ICE custody. That’s 17 months that I’ve been away from my family, that I’ve been away from my loved ones, that I’ve been away from being an asset to my community. I’ve experienced medical negligence, nutritional malnourishment, retaliation, discrimination and horrible living conditions. It’s unsettling to know that we are here because some people are benefiting off us being in these beds. Sometimes I wake up and I feel like I’m in a nightmare,” Gustavo shared. He added, “For those reasons, we have no other choice than to try to change our conditions by going on our labor strike. Conditions weren’t getting better, so then we had to take more extreme measures and put our bodies and our health on the line by going on a hunger strike. It is our responsibility right now to pave a better way for future generations.”

More than a year has passed since people detained at Mesa Verde and Golden State began an ongoing labor strike to protest $1-a-day pay for involuntary work. Six months have passed since they launched a hunger strike to protest the ongoing conditions and abuse. Over three months have passed since Congressmembers sent DHS and ICE a second letter demanding action, and clearly stating that “time is of the essence.”

Indeed, time is of the essence. The time is now to hold ICE and GEO accountable, end the contracts at Mesa Verde and Golden State and shut these detention centers down for good.

Immigrant justice groups and people who have survived ICE detention gathered today in San Francisco and Fresno, CA to protest ongoing abuse and call for renewed Congressional action to hold ICE and GEO accountable.

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The MV-GSA Hunger Strike Support Committee consists of the ACLU Foundation of Northern California, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice, Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, El Concilio Family Services, Freedom for Immigrants, Free Them All Coalition SD, Kern Welcoming and Extending Solidarity to Immigrants, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement Sacramento Chapter, La Voz de los Trabajadores, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers’ Guild, Pangea Legal Services, Papeles Para Todos, and Rapid Response Network of Kern County.


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