It has been two years since families have been able to visit their loved ones in the Mesa Verde Detention Facility.
“There are some people that have been there for three or four years. They have not seen their families for over two years now face-to-face. If they call their family members, they must pay,” said Jeannie Parent, coordinator for Kern Welcoming and Extending Solidarity to Immigrants (KWESI).
KWESI started in 2015 when Mesa Verde opened, and they are dedicated to helping immigrants who are detained in detention centers. They would visit detainees who had no family to visit them.
After the pandemic started, visitation was no longer allowed. Parent explains that there is a form of communicating over the phone, but it all costs money. KWESI helps raise money to make deposits on their commissary funds to use for phone calls, food, and hygiene products.
Additionally, Parent stated that the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has failed to treat detainees like humans.
ICE allows 520 minutes of communication per month, which is a little over eight and a half hours.
ICE, however, has claimed to have the appropriate measures to not allow in-person visitation.
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement continues to apply CDC guidance through its Pandemic Response Requirements (PRR), regularly communicating with senior medical leadership across the federal government on overarching detention health standards. The agency is committed to delivering high-quality, evidence-based medical care, in a dignified and respectful manner, to detained individuals,” said ICE spokesperson.
CDC states that it is considered that in-person visitation should only be restricted if the residents physical health is severe or when there is moderate to high community transmission. This however, is not an obligatory statement, since CDC does not have authority to set policy for individual facilities.
“The corrections guide is currently undergoing revision to reflect CDC’s guidance on COVID-19 Community Levels and the updated version will be posted as soon as it’s available,” said Jade Fulce, Public Affairs Specialist.
CDC also states in-person visitation is important to the resident’s mental health, and there must always be a type of form for communication.
Jeannie states that there is no reason to disallow visitation anymore.
“All the businesses have opened, and mask mandates have been lifted in most areas, so there is no real rationale that makes sense that justifies not having visitation,” said Jeannie Parent.
KWEIS calls detainees frequently to check how they are doing. Inside detentions, detainees do not have sufficient food or hygiene products; therefore, they had to buy food or soap.
KWEIS makes the best effort to help immigrants. After they are released from the detention, the organization helps them get to where they need to go — whether it’s driving them to their designated location or helping them buy a ticket for a bus or train.
Family in-person visitation is important, and restrictions can be made to allow visitation such as fully being vaccinated, wearing a mask when inside the detention, and maintaining safe distance.
KWEIS is working hard to obtain in-person visitation hours for detention facilities. There is a campaign going on now for immigrants and other advocacy organizations that are promoting to get in-person visitation started again.