More than half of Mesa Verde detainees test positive for COVID-19

August 24, 2020 /

In the Zepeda Rivas, et al. V. Jennings, et al. case, evidence showed that GeoGroup (GEO) did not intend or adhere to testing detainees and staff at the Mesa Verde ICE processing facility. 

As a result, more than half of the detainees at Mesa Verde have tested positive for COVID-19. 

“[GEO and ICE] have no interest in whether [detainees] live or die,” said Jeanne Parent, who works with Kern Welcoming and Extending Solidarity to Immigrants (KWESI). “And as a former detainee said, [they] are turning ‘detention into a death sentence.’” 

In light of the new findings, federal judge, Vince Chhabria, mandated that the Bakersfield immigration center test all detainees and staff. 

After two consecutive ordered tests, results showed that 54 of 104 detainees tested positive for the virus. The judge also included in his orders that the staff members be tested weekly. 

This ruling comes from a series of hearings of the lawsuit that was filed this April to ensure that the facility was taking appropriate measures to protect the lives of those at the Mesa Verde. 

The plaintiffs, made up of various legal organizations, including the ACLU Foundations of Northern California and Southern California, the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights (LCCR) of the San Francisco Bay Area, Lakin & Wille LLP, and Cooley LLP, argue that the facility is overcrowded and makes it impossible to follow the CDC public safety recommendations, thus endangering the lives of many. 

“This case reveals that the centers are for-profit and not fully equipped,” said Rosa Lopez, a policy advocate and organizer with the American Civil Liberties Union. 

Parent has found through conversations between the detainees in Mesa Verde the living conditions are unsafe and unsanitary. 

She states that detainees are given the opportunity to work for a dollar a day. Such payable tasks include cleaning the bathroom, sweeping, cooking, or doing laundry. Since many fell ill due to unsafe conditions and an insufficient supply of cleaning products,  a clean environment was not maintained. 

Sick and angered, detainees went on a labor strike. As conditions worsened they were forced to suspend the strike. 

“GEO did not keep them safe by hiring staff to clean it,” said Parent. “Instead, they allowed the detainees to live in the filth during a pandemic, creating an unsafe environment. . . This is a private, profit making prison, and GEO is making billions off the backs of immigrants, and these days, sick immigrants.” 

Currently, the Mesa Verde facility has released all female detainees, and they are working on a case-by-case basis to release the most vulnerable, according to Lopez. 

“If a detainee needs medical attention, they have to put in a kite (a request) on the tablet to see a doctor,” Parent said. “However, because of the labor strike, there has been retaliation, so the tablets were taken away.” 

She does not know if the iPads were given back to this date or how long it would take to receive medical assistance when a request is sent. She has heard in some cases it has taken days.