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Women released from Mesa Verde ICE detention facility amid coronavirus fears

More than a dozen women held in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility in Bakersfield have been released after they held a hunger strike amid coronavirus concerns, an advocacy group said Thursday.

ICE officials released at least 15 women from the Mesa Verde Detention Facility in Kern County, according to Centro Legal de la Raza, an Oakland-based legal organization that represents some of the women who were released.

A coalition of attorneys that included the San Francisco public defender’s office and the ACLU filed a lawsuit in April calling on ICE to release inmates from Mesa Verde and Yuba County Jail. The lawsuit alleged crowded and unsanitary conditions.

“The litigation led to release of some women detained at Mesa Verde, but despite the urgent risk to their lives, many were still being denied release,” said Susan Beaty, an attorney at Centro Legal. “The persistency of the hunger strikers on the inside and the mounting public pressure coming from the outside is what pushed ICE to use its authority to release them.”

The release follows weeks of protests and a hunger strike among the women in the facility who said they were unable to follow health guidelines like physical distancing, putting them at risk of COVID-19.

“We could die here,” said Donovant Grant, who is still detained. “We cannot do social distancing, and people are coming in and out every day. I see so many different faces.”

A 57-year-old man, Carlos Escobar-Mejia, died Wednesday of COVID-19 as the first person to succumb to the disease in ICE custody. He was treated at a hospital but had been detained at Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego, ICE said.

The men and several women are still detained at Mesa Verde, and advocacy groups remain concerned about those who are still in custody, said Tania Bernal of the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance.

“Now ICE has shown us that this is something within their authority to accomplish,” Bernal said. “It’s up to us to pressure them to do so.”

Anna Bauman
San Francisco Chronicle

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