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Asylum Seekers At Otay Mesa Facility Allege Uncomfortably High Temperatures

The sign at the entrance to the Otay Mesa Immigration and Detention Facility ...

Photo by Katie Schoolov

Above: The sign at the entrance to the Otay Mesa Immigration and Detention Facility in San Diego, June 22, 2018.

CoreCivic, a private company that operates an immigration detention facility in Otay Mesa, said Friday it has fixed an air conditioning issue that had been bothering detainees for nearly a week.

Immigrants and asylum seekers have long complained of cold temperatures in the U.S. border holding cells known as "hieleras," or freezers.

This week, some said they were burning up at the private Otay Mesa detention facility run in collaboration with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“This is an oven. It’s like they’re cooking us in here," said Pedro Pavon, an asylum seeker from Honduras who spoke to Alex Mensing, an organizer with immigrant rights group Pueblo Sin Fronteras. "We can't take it anymore."

Mensing gave an audio recording of his Thursday conversation with Pavon to KPBS on Friday. He said he received multiple calls from asylum seekers at the facility who claimed the air conditioning in a unit holding about 120 people had been broken for almost a week.

"It’s part of a strategy to wear people down and not make them feel they deserve to be here so they give up and self deport," Mensing said.

It's been nearing 80 degrees in Otay Mesa this week. Unlike the average person with a broken air conditioning unit, detainees are restricted in their access to open-air spaces.

After repeated requests for comment, CoreCivic said Friday it fixed the issue after five days, but that the temperature never exceeded 74 degrees and it provided ice and cold water to detainees and opened recreation doors to allow the air to circulate.

Amanda Gilchrist, director of public affairs for CoreCivic, said the dysfunctional air conditioning unit was in the "dayroom unit." It was not immediately clear how much time detainees spend in the dayroom unit and KPBS is awaiting confirmation.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Mensing said the asylum seekers who reached out to him were part of a Pueblo Sin Fronteras caravan that arrived at the San Diego-Tijuana border in April.

Complaints of mistreatment at the facility are not new. Asylum seekers and immigrants have reached out to nonprofits, attorneys and journalists with allegations of inadequate medical care, verbal abuse from guards and more for years.

RELATED: Pregnant Mother Fights For Release From Immigration Detention Facility In Otay Mesa

Mensing said the asylum seekers are afraid to file complaints directly with managers at the facility.

Five asylum seekers are fighting CoreCivic for alleged exploitation and forced labor in a class-action lawsuit filed in December.

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