Detainees at Mesa Verde and GSA continue labor strike

July 21, 2022 /

Detainees in the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center declared a labor strike 84 days ago and Golden State Annex joined the strike 44 days ago. The strike is in response to being paid $1.00 a day for work and unsanitary living conditions. 

“To cease the exploitation of our labor by paying workers according to CA minimum wage of $15 per hour, being treated with dignity and respect by the facility administration, and the improvement of substandard conditions we are forced to live in, in direct violation of the Performance-Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS),” said the Mesa Verde & Golden State Labor Strikers Collective in a release explaining the strike. 

According to the federal complaint filed the workers are paid $1.00 a day to work their scheduled shifts 5 days a week and often paid nothing at all to work on their off days. Their jobs include the upkeep of the facilities cleaning wise, painting, and assisting those with disabilities.

“Detained people are forced to submit to GEO’s $1 per day scheme, the so-called “Voluntary” Activities Program (“Work Program”), to buy the basic necessities—including food, water, and hygiene products—that GEO systematically deprives them of,” said the California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice (CCIJ) in the complaint. 

Being underpaid or not paid at all severely impacts the detainees because they need to pay for commissary items and to contact their families. 

According to Edwin Carmona-Cruz, Community Engagement Director, with CCIJ, two individuals, Mohamed Mousa and Pedro Figueroa, have been retaliated against by being sent to restricted housing also known as solitary confinement. The facility charged them with inciting a demonstration but has not said what the demonstration was. Extracurricular activities have also been taken away from the detainees. 

“Our requests for meetings with facility administration and ICE to discuss ways to

remedy the violations were done in good faith, yet we were met with retaliation and

aggressive behavior,” said the Mesa Verde & Golden State Labor Strikers Collective in the release. “In fact, the violations of the PBNDS and ERO’s Pandemic Response Requirements have accelerated the spread of COVID-19, where 11 of our dorm mates have

tested positive for the virus.”

Along with the exploitation of labor, the detainees are also facing unsanitary living conditions. They are not always given enough cleaning supplies to clean the areas assigned to them and in turn, have to use their own personal hygiene supplies. The food served in the facilities is often expired or rodent infested.

“In 2021, detained people at Golden State Annex reported unlivable and unsanitary housing conditions, including cockroaches and flies in their food, spoiled milk, walls covered in mold, and broken toilets that spit water out when flushed,” said the complaint. 

This is one of the reasons that the voluntary work program is not seen as voluntary. The complaint mentions that the GEO does not staff the facilities with workers to maintain proper sanitation for the living spaces. In response, the detainees either have to work underpaid or not paid at all if they want some sort of cleanliness. The complaint states the reasoning for the facilities being understaffed is for them to maximize their profits. 

On top of the issues happening in the Carmona-Cruz also feels the detention centers are not necessary in the first place. 

“Detention is not necessary under any circumstances. Our community members can fight their immigration cases out in the community along with their families and their loved ones,” said Carmona-Cruz.

The labor strikers are fed up with the way they are being treated and demand a change starts happening for the better. 

“This lawsuit is not just about labor exploitation with the $1-a-day pay, it is about the never-ending list of violations that put our lives–and the lives of thousands across the country–at risk, and the dehumanization of immigrants,” said the Mesa Verde & Golden State Labor Strikers Collective in the release.

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JaNell Gore

Ja'Nell Gore is a student at Cal State Bakersfield. In addition to writing for Kern Sol News she is a poet who loves any chance she has to perform and be with her community.