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As Immigration Detainees Become Fewer, ACLU Wants Otay Mesa Detention Center Closed

A vehicle drives into the Otay Mesa detention center in San Diego, Calif., Ju...

Credit: Associated Press

Above: A vehicle drives into the Otay Mesa detention center in San Diego, Calif., June 9, 2017.

The number of detained immigrants nationwide reached a high of more than 50,000 in 2019. Since then the number has fallen to around 15,000 people.

Lawyers with the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties say that drop proves immigration detention is unnecessary, with no tangible impact on public safety or the functioning of the immigration courts system.

“The bottom line is that people can be released due to orders that call for a large number of people released at once, and the system will not fall apart," said Monika Langarica, an attorney with the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. "It will continue to operate as it has. People will continue to show up for immigration court."

RELATED: Left With Nothing By Biden Administration, Migrant Families In Tijuana Face An Impossible Choice

In a new issue brief being distributed this week, the ACLU is highlighting allegations of abuse at the Otay Mesa Detention Center, which is run by the private prison company CoreCivic.

These include medical neglect, poor sanitation, sexual abuse and the use of solitary confinement.

“This reliance on private corporations in immigration detention and incarceration really incentivizes mistreatment and abuse by encouraging corporations to keep costs down, to increase profits,” Langarica said.

The issue briefing calls for the closure of Otay Mesa and the enforcement of a new California law banning the use of private prisons. But Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Core Civic signed a last-minute contract extension, meant to circumvent the new law.

Reported by Max Rivlin-Nadler

It’s unclear just how long CoreCivic will continue to be allowed to operate in the state.

UPDATE 04/22/21: In response to this story, a spokesperson from CoreCivic reached out to KPBS to refute the claims in the ACLU's issue brief.

"We deny the specious and sensationalized allegations contained in the ACLU brief," the spokesperson wrote in an email to KPBS. "These allegations are designed to exert political pressure rather than to serve as an objective description of the affirmative, proactive measures that OMDC has undertaken for over a year to address this unprecedented pandemic."

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Photo of Max Rivlin-Nadler

Max Rivlin-Nadler
Speak City Heights Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover City Heights, a neighborhood at the intersection of immigration, gentrification, and neighborhood-led health care initiatives. I'm interested in how this unique neighborhood deals with economic inequality during an unprecedented global health crisis.

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