Immigrant rights activists, detained leaders speak up amidst labor strike

October 20, 2022 / and

Immigrant rights and labor activists gathered outside the Golden State Annex and Mesa Verde Detention Centers on Sunday along with previously detained immigrants in support of currently detained immigrants who have been on labor strike for over four months. Detained leaders were able to connect with other advocates via phone.

Detained immigrant workers are protesting mistreatment, poor living conditions, and unjust labor practices, and — according to a press release sent out by the Mesa Verde & Golden State Labor Strikers Support Committee — in September 2022, nine labor strikers filed a Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) complaint with the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Immigration Detention Ombudsman. These labor strikers urged the departments to investigate retaliation and other abuses committed by ICE and the GEO Group.

“We decided that enough is enough and we deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. We have rights and just because you have us in these cages doesn’t mean we are going to keep accepting what you have been doing to us for many years in these detention centers,” stated Serafin Andrade, a current detainee at the Mesa Verde Detention Center. “In these detention centers, they take advantage of us and we don’t receive the proper medical attention or care and they have us living in horrible conditions.”

In detention centers, workers are paid $1.00 a day to work their scheduled shifts five days a week. Oftentimes, they are 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.

Nestor Chavez, who was detained at Mesa Verde from 2018 until 2021, stated that he would wash about 400 dishes in a day for just $1.

“I didn’t do it because I wanted to, I did it because I had to. We want justice for everyone that is still in there,” Chavez said.

As the labor strike inside these detention centers approaches the six-month mark, advocates are demanding that detainees receive humane treatment, minimum wage, and that ICE and GEO take the appropriate steps to improve the substandard living conditions that detainees currently face.

“I have one year here at this detention center. We are fighting for human rights because they have been deflected and ignored. They take advantage of us. We are away from our families and they make us pay a lot just to talk on the phone with our families. They force us to pay for expensive food that is already expired. We will stay united and fight for our rights,” stated Jose Ramirez Hernandez, another current detainee.

Pedro Figueroa, who has been detained inside Mesa Verde for about a year, described his journey within the center as frustrating due to the corruption along the chain of command. In response to their labor strike, detention center detainees have experienced retaliation in the form of solitary confinement for up to 40 days.

Additionally, detainees stated they have also experienced humiliation, racism, degrading comments, deprivation of nutritious meals, loss of commissary access, threats to transfer to out of state detention centers, and lack of medical treatment.

“Both the GEO Corporation and the agency of ICE portray themselves as high-standard certified, yet strongly fail to acknowledge that they are far from that,” Figueroa commented. “ICE and GEO take advantage of individuals and families by profiting off of them.”

He continued by revealing that those being detained are deprived of basic necessities and because of all this, they will continue to fight for their rights and against the mistreatment they are facing.

“We stand against this in unity and are doing what is right, not what is easy. It is not wrong to speak up, it is a right that everyone has and I encourage everyone — both in here and out there — to always speak up against any injustices done to them. Never settle for less than what you deserve,” Figueroa stated.

The Mesa Verde and Golden State Annex Labor Striker Support Committee is composed of Immigrant Rights Organizations and Labor Unions including: the Citizenship for All Movement (Movimiento Papeles Para Todos), Workers’ Voice, SEIU Local 87, Latinos Unidos for a New America (LUNA), Pangea Legal Services, Centro Legal de la Raza, California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice (CCIJ), ACLU of Southern California, Kern Welcoming and Extending Solidarity to Immigrants (KWESI), the Rapid Response Network of Kern, Socialist Organizer, and LCLAA Sacramento Chapter.

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