BREAKING: Seventy-seven Detained Immigrants Launch Hunger Strike at Two Central Valley Facilities, Protest Unpaid Labor and Inhumane Conditions
Strikers demand immediate release and the closure of both immigration facilities
BAKERSFIELD AND MCFARLAND, CALIF. – Today, 77 individuals detained at the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center in Bakersfield and the Golden State Annex in McFarland launched a joint hunger strike demanding the immediate release of all individuals detained at the facilities and the shutdown of both detention centers, owned and operated by the private prison contractor GEO Group. Detained people have described living conditions in both facilities as “abhorrent” and “soul-crushing.”
The hunger strike is an escalation of a 10-month-long, ongoing labor strike protesting $1-a-day pay for work performed by detained individuals inside the facilities, including janitorial services. Facility administration retaliated against the strikers by placing them in solitary confinement. Advocates filed a federal complaint to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties calling attention to the retaliation.
The scathing complaint prompted sixteen members of the California Congressional Delegation to send a letter to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, urging ICE to conduct a full review of the reports of disturbing conditions and retaliatory behavior towards people in custody at both facilities. Members of Congress also called on DHS to shut down both facilities if the allegations prove to be true.
The dangerous working conditions, including exposure to black mold, prompted California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health to step in and conduct an inspection that resulted in six violations, and fines against GEO Group totaling $104,000. GEO Group was also cited for repeatedly failing to provide records to investigators in a timely manner.
“We have tried to meet with ICE and GEO multiple times to request they follow Performance Based National Detention Standards to improve living and working conditions. As a response, some of our comrades have been sent to solitary confinement and others are being subjected to sexually-motivated pat-downs,” said the hunger strikers in a statement. “We are served expired food, unable to afford overpriced commissary items, receive unsatisfactory medical attention, and are emotionally affected by the lack of visitation opportunities with our loved ones. Our prolonged detention is unnecessary and inhumane, and we demand our collective release.”
A coalition of civil rights and legal organizations supporting the strike, the Mesa Verde-Golden State Annex (MV-GSA) Hunger Strike Support Coalition, are demanding ICE immediately release all hunger strikers and all individuals who have already won their immigration cases.
“This hunger strike grows out of almost a year of organizing within the facilities to protest the dehumanizing and unjust conditions of immigration detention that DHS continues to sanction,” said the MV-GSA Hunger Strike Support Coalition. “We support the strikers’ demands for release and will protect their right to lawfully protest the injustice of their ongoing detention.”
Hunger strikers call on Members of Congress to launch a full and transparent investigation into the violations caused by private contractors and ICE, and urge accountability in the form of the closure of the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center and the Golden State Annex.
For live updates on the hunger strike, refer to this link.
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, California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, Centro Legal de la Raza, 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.