All of our incarcerated clients – including our clients in immigration detention centers – continue to be at a heightened risk of being exposed to COVID-19, and my office is fighting every day for their health and safety.

Immigration detention facilities are particularly at risk with regards to spread of infectious diseases because of congregate-style sleeping arrangements, crowding, the proportion of vulnerable people detained, the lack of proper sanitation supplies, and consistently inadequate medical care resources.

Yuba County Jail and the Mesa Verde Detention Center – the two ICE detention centers where most of our immigrant clients are being held – are not equipped to keep detainees or staff safe during this public health crisis. For over forty years, Yuba has been under court-ordered Consent Decree due to its failure to provide detainees with adequate medical care. The Mesa Verde Detention Facility is a privately run, for-profit facility that houses up to 400 non-citizen detainees in congregate settings who are in civil detention.

For these reasons, I sent a letter today to ICE Field Officer David Jennings, requesting the immediate release of detainees from these two locations.  

Congress has explicitly granted ICE the authority to release detainees for “urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.”  ICE not only has the authority to exercise discretion and release individuals from custody, but also has routinely exercised this discretion to release vulnerable detainees in the past. Detainees can be released to federally-approved alternatives to detention such as telephonic reporting requirements or even electronic monitoring.

In this crisis, every single detainee held at Yuba and Mesa Verde is vulnerable to contracting and spreading the virus, and should be released from custody and provided opportunities for alternatives to detention immediately. We must take these urgent measures now to protect immigrant detainees, detention center staff members, family members, and the broader community from contracting this virus.

Mano Raju, Public Defender of San Francisco – March 19, 2020


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