Mendez v. U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE)
On February 23, 2023, five people detained at the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center in Bakersfield, CA, and the Golden State Annex in McFarland, CA, filed a class action lawsuit against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and GEO Group, the private, for-profit prison company that owns and operates the detention centers. The plaintiffs—Milton Mendez, Guillermo Medina Reyes, Cruz Leandro Martinez Leiva, and two individuals referred to as “R.H.M.” and “E.O.A.R.” in court documents to protect their privacy—are among the approximately 82 detained people who declared a hunger strike on February 17, 2023, to protest unpaid labor and inhumane living conditions. Since the hunger strike began, ICE and GEO Group have harassed strikers by threatening to place them in solitary confinement, making the temperature of the dorms painfully cold, and taunting them with food. Officials have also denied them family visitation, access to worship services, and access to the detention center yard. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit seek injunctive relief against ICE and GEO Group for retaliating against them for engaging in a collective hunger strike to demand immediate release and closure of both Central Valley ICE detention facilities.
Early morning on March 7, 2023, GEO Group officers appeared in full riot riot gear, carrying batons and pepper spray, and attempted to force certain hunger strikers to leave Dorm C at Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center. Subsequently, ICE officers and other officers wearing badges that said “San Francisco Special Response” entered Dorm C, screamed at strikers, forcefully removed four strikers from the dorm, and threw at least three of them to the floor as they were handcuffed. Their phones and tablets were disconnected, preventing them from calling their attorneys and families. After many hours of silence, ICE belatedly informed their attorneys that the four strikers were transferred to a detention facility in El Paso, Texas for unsubstantiated “medical purposes”. In response, plaintiffs filed an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order against ICE and GEO Group to block them from transferring hunger strikers to other detention facilities in an unlawful attempt to break the strike, and to end the unconstitutional transfer of the four strikers sent to El Paso.
- 2/17/2023: People in custody go on hunger strike
- 2/23/2023: Lawsuit filed
- 3/7/2023: Emergency motion for temporary restraining order against ICE & Geo Group filed
In The News
- KQED: ‘Until We Drop’: Immigrant Detainees on Hunger Strike Sue ICE, Detention Contractor for Alleged Retaliation
- The Bakersfield Californian: 4 Mesa Verde strikers reportedly transferred to El Paso
- The Fresno Bee: Hunger strikers sent from Central Valley detention centers to El Paso, supporters say