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Border & Immigration

Immigration Detainees Launch Hunger Strike As Outbreak Grows 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.

A detainee inside the Otay Mesa center says at least 26 people in his pod refused meals on Friday. They’re protesting a lack of health care precautions that has led to the largest outbreak in immigration detention in the country. There are now 27 detainees at the Otay Mesa Detention Center positive for COVID-19.

The detainees were given masks a week ago, but have not been given replacement ones well after the CDC says they would have lost their effectiveness.

Hunger-striker Edgar Granski has been detained at Otay Mesa for eight months. He’s facing possible deportation back to Russia. On a phone call Friday, he told KPBS that it’s impossible to maintain social distance while in detention, and sick detainees in his pod are being told to gargle saltwater, aren’t being tested for COVID-19, and are sent back to be with the rest of the pod.

He also said guards have ignored CDC safety guidelines, and have walked around the facility without masks or gloves.

RELATED: Otay Mesa COVID-19 Outbreak Now The Largest At A US Immigration Detention Center

Immigration Detainees Launch Hunger Strike In Response To COVID-19 Outbreak At Otay Mesa Detention Center

“One of the [correctional officers] here today, he’s not wearing a mask or gloves. And they walk around, touch the rails, touch their keys, and everywhere, the CDC rules are not being followed here,” Granski said.

The detainees say they’ll be on hunger strike until they’re tested, and treated for COVID-19 if they test positive. They also want better safety equipment, and for all guards to follow CDC guidance.

“It’s common-sense, c’mon you guys. We’re all adults here, we’re dealing with an epidemic that we’ve never had to deal with in our lifetime, but do things and take the precautions necessary. Let’s not half-ass it,” he told KPBS.

CoreCivic, which runs the facility, directed questions about the hunger strike to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. ICE denied there’s an ongoing hunger strike at Otay Mesa.