Immigrant Rights Groups call for action following reports of neglect and systemic failures conditions at GSA detention center

March 21, 2024 /

California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice (CCIJ) released a press release regarding a letter they sent out to ICE to stop the increased number of people it chooses to hold in its custody at Golden State Annex (GSA), an immigrant detention center in McFarland, CA, on March 12. 

According to the release, ICE has significantly increased the intake of people it sends to the detention center, and there have been reports of severe violations that violate ICE’s Performance-Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS), such as lack of access to water, medical assistance, hygiene products, and clean clothing. From January 2023 to March 2024 the population has surged from 130 to approximately 400 individuals, marking a 200% increase primarily within weeks which lead to the condition results. 

CCIJ reported the detention center has also neglected to offer timely and sufficient medical care. The PBNDS requires that new arrivals must undergo a medical screening within 12 hours of arrival and receive a comprehensive assessment within two working days, followed by timely provision of appropriate care. However due to the sudden increase in population, there are reports of medical errors and care delays. Nurses working in the detention center have also reported their inability to dispense medications due to shortages and conduct medical testing. 

The PBNDS mandates that clean, potable drinking water must be accessible to detained individuals and that the facility must furnish basic hygiene items such as soap, toothpaste, and disposable razors on a daily basis, replenishing them as needed but CCIJ reported there have been reports that detained individuals at GSA have been without water for up to 12 hours due to staff neglecting to refill water dispensers in dorms promptly and shortages of toilet paper, soap, toothpaste, and razors. Some have endured up to three days without access to soap or razors.

CCIJ and signed by 22 other immigrant rights groups sent out a letter to the region’s ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations that outlined their concerns expressed by legal service providers, advocacy groups, and as well several letters from detained individuals at GSA. 

Ever Paz, currently detained at GSA, sent a letter to a lawyer that said the facility has yet to provide basic toiletries such as toilet paper, soap, and toothpaste. “The situation is dire and might only worsen by the hour because ICE is detaining more people here than ever before and obviously housing them in these aforementioned inhumane conditions,” Paz said. 

“We have been putting our bodies on the line here at Golden State Annex and Mesa Verde for years to protest what’s going on in here,” Gustavo Flores said, who has been detained at GSA since March 2022. Not long after Flores was sent to the detention center, he and a dozen other detained individuals joined a labor strike. “We were fighting against many of the same injustices that we continue to see today – medical neglect, undercooked and unhealthy food, filthy bathrooms, as well as being coerced to work for a dollar a day. We even had support from some labor unions, and we spoke with congressional offices, but things haven’t been fixed. Just yesterday, we weren’t given any dinner until 9 p.m., and the meat we got was raw. It’s time for this to stop, and I don’t think there’s any solution other than closing these detention centers,” Flores said in the letter. 

Priya Patel, Supervising Attorney with the California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice said in the press release that it is important to recognize that immigration detention is not just cruel and costly, but entirely unnecessary. “ICE has chosen that instead of allowing people to pursue their legal proceedings in freedom–which overwhelming evidence shows immigrants do consistently–they will suddenly jam them by the hundreds into a cage where they are subjected to torturous conditions,” she said.

Eunice Hernandez Chenier with Pangea Legal Services expressed that the members of Congress, ICE leadership and the Biden administration are fully aware of these issues but yet have little to no accountability. “People locked up inside GSA have consistently denounced systemic harm, retaliation and negligence at the facility…The Biden administration, like every other administration during an election year, is playing politics with people’s lives while GEO reaps the benefits by the millions of dollars,” Chenier said. 

The letter was signed by: California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice, ACLU Foundation of Southern California, ACLU of Northern California, African Advocacy Network, Alameda County Public Defender, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus, Central American Resource Center – CARECEN – of California, Central Valley Immigrant Integration Collaborative, Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto (CLSEPA), Dolores Street Community Services, Human Rights First, Immigrant Defense Advocates, Immigrant Legal Defense, Law Office of Helen Lawrence, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, Oasis Legal Services, Pangea Legal Services, Public Counsel, San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, Services Immigrant Rights and Education Network (SIREN), Social Justice Collaborative, and USC Gould School of Law Immigration Clinic.

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Haley Duval

Haley is a reporter based in Bakersfield, CA.