People in about 30 cars staged a protest Saturday outside the Otay Mesa Detention Center claiming CoreCivic, the company that manages the site, is not doing enough to protect migrant detainees from COVID-19, authorities said.
The protest happened about noon Saturday in the 7400 block of Calzada de la Fuente, according to San Diego Sheriff's Sgt. Stan Bracy.
The nonprofit organization Pueblo Sin Fronteras claims that on Friday detained immigrant women asked for personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face masks. But CoreCivic only offered the women masks if they signed a waiver declaring CoreCivic's handling of COVID-19 adequate and releasing them from any COVID-19 liability.
The detainees denied signing the waiver. The nonprofit said the detainees then began making improvised masks from fabric when CoreCivic "launched a chemical attack on the women and handcuffed at least three, whom CoreCivic sent to solitary confinement."
“ICE detention centers are rapidly turning into death camps,” said Alex Mensing of Pueblo Sin Fronteras. “These camps aren’t isolated. This is a time when how we treat the most vulnerable won’t just reflect back on us as a society; it will literally kill us.
After this incident is when the nonprofit planned the protest outside the detention center.
"Thirty cars parked in front of the facility began honking their horns, shouting and recording video," Bracy said. "The people contacted told deputies this was a noise protest for those infected with the coronavirus inside the federal facility."
Immigrants inside the detention center have pleaded for PPE because they report at least 15 detained migrants and six staff members have tested positive for COVID-19, the nonprofit organization said.
U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris, a member of the Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Committee, claimed the center now has the most reported COVID-19 cases among any ICE detention facility in the country and released the following statement:
“The horrifying conditions at Otay Mesa Detention Center are unacceptable. Every day that officials continue to lock up low-risk and vulnerable people is another day that people in U.S. custody along with countless facility and court personnel, legal representatives, witnesses, and family members are put at risk of a preventable death from a deadly virus,” said Harris.
“We are in a moment of crisis that requires leaders to respond swiftly and humanely in the interest of public health. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has failed to take sufficient commonsense actions that would save lives. That needs to change—now," she said.
According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) website, 10 migrants detained at the Otay Mesa Detention Center have contracted COVID-19. ICE also confirmed five employees at the center have COVID-19.
The protest lasted 15 minutes before deputies from the Imperial Beach sheriff's station and California Highway Patrol officers got them to disperse, Bracy said.
Three people were cited for unlawful use of a horn, having no proof of insurance and violating the public health stay-at-home order, Bracy said.
"The San Diego County Sheriff's Department respects the public's right to free speech and to peacefully protest," Bracy said. "However, with a global pandemic, we urge you to follow the governor's executive and county public health orders to protect the most vulnerable and save lives. At this most critical time, the importance of staying home other than for essential needs is necessary for everyone's safety."
NBC 7 reached out to CoreCivic for a statement and received the following:
On April 10, there was no use of force at the Otay Mesa Detention Center, nor were any chemical agents dispersed. Those allegations are patently false.
It is true that face masks were issued to every individual in our care at Otay Mesa. The temporary removal of three detainees from one of the pods was in direct response to their being disruptive during the issuance of the face masks. At no time was any force used to remove these individuals, and they were returned to the pod a short while later.
The facts and circumstances surrounding this event were shared with our government partner, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and we encourage you to contact them for confirmation of the above information.
Regarding masks, no signed waiver will be required to receive a mask.
The CDC makes it clear that the mask recommendation “complements but does not replace” other critical steps to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. To make sure that anyone wearing a mask fully understands that they may not be preventative and that it’s important to continue measures like social distancing and proper hygiene recommendations, we will provide an educational handout. No signed waiver will be required to receive a mask.
As we all adjust to the rapid changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, our company will continue to adapt our practices and policies in accordance with guidance from health experts to ensure the health and safety of our employees, those in our care and our communities.