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Border & Immigration

10 Detainees Now Positive For COVID-19 At Otay Mesa Detention Center

The sign at the entrance to the Otay Mesa Immigration and Detention Facility is pictured in San Diego, June 22, 2018.
Katie Schoolov
The sign at the entrance to the Otay Mesa Immigration and Detention Facility is pictured in San Diego, June 22, 2018.

There are now 10 detainees who are positive for COVID-19 at the Otay Mesa Detention Center, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and CoreCivic, the operator of the center.

The detention center houses people in immigration and US Marshals’ Custody. Six employees there have now tested positive for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

During a virtual press conference Thursday, immigrant advocates, health experts, and elected officials called on the federal government to release as many detainees as possible from Otay Mesa.

They say it’s impossible for detainees to follow simple health guidelines such as social-distancing and hand-washing.

“All of those things are enormously difficult for people to do in detention, and in many of the places that we hold people it is functionally impossible to achieve those basic minimum standards,” said Dr. Chris Beyrer, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins.

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Over the weekend, several detainees launched a hunger strike to protest their conditions during the pandemic.

“The majority of us participated because the virus can come, and it would very likely infect us all,” said one of the detainees, whose recorded message was shared during the press conference.

“We all use the same bathrooms here, and we are always crowded in the same place.”

Dorien Ediger-Seto, an attorney with the National Immigrant Justice Center, said that some units at Otay Mesa Detention Center are now being “cohorted.”

According to the CDC:

“Cohorting refers to the practice of isolating multiple laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases together as a group, or quarantining close contacts of a particular case together as a group. Ideally, cases should be isolated individually, and close contacts should be quarantined individually. However, some correctional facilities and detention centers do not have enough individual cells to do so and must consider cohorting as an alternative.”

Ediger-Seto explained that meant that detainees can no longer leave the detention center until everyone in the “cohorted” section of the detention center has been free of symptoms for fourteen days.

“They’re essentially fair game for the virus, and will be locked in quarantine until the virus has run its course through every human being that is there,” said Ediger-Seto.