6 Detainees, 5 Employees Test Positive For Coronavirus At Otay Mesa Detention Center
In a federal filing on Monday, the government confirmed the Otay Mesa Detention Center, which houses both immigration and federal pretrial detainees, has seen its confirmed coronavirus cases balloon to six people. As of last week, there had been no confirmed cases.
Advocates have faulted CoreCivic, the company that runs the center, for not adequately protecting detainees against the spread of the virus, and letting employees spread the infection among the detainee population.
On Tuesday CoreCivic told KPBS that three more employees had tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of infected employees to five.
The last shifts for these employees were between April 1 and April 4 and one of the employees is now hospitalized.
"Every day there’s more sick people, because the virus is here, that’s the truth. But they don’t tell them the truth. They tell them not to worry," Oliver, a detainee from Honduras at Otay Mesa, told KPBS. He doesn't want his last name used because of his ongoing asylum claim. He says his unit was placed in quarantine last week. And that guards have misled the detainees about the danger they're in.
His lawyer, Dorien Ediger-Seto, with the National Immigrant Justice Center, says that as of this morning, an official at Otay Mesa Detention Center told her that four units are now under quarantine.
"As advocates and as people in detention have predicted, the virus was brought into detention likely by somebody who was going in and out of the facility and it’s spreading like wildfire throughout the pods," Ediger-Seto told KPBS. "My client is incredibly worried, and his family is worried about his safety."
Some detainees in federal criminal and immigration custody in San Diego have launched hunger strikes to draw attention to the severity of the situation inside the facilities.
"The measures that the facility took to control the disease came far too late, and really the facility is not designed to manage any sort of infectious disease outbreak like the one they’re seeing," Ediger-Seto said.
Last Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties filed a lawsuit against the government, trying to secure the release of detainees who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19. Similar lawsuits across the country have had mixed success in securing the release of civil immigration detainees during the pandemic.