FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 26, 2021
CONTACT: SF Public Defender’s Office – Valerie.Ibarra@sfgov.org – (628)249-7946
San Francisco Public Defender calls for release of Ricardo Vasquez Cruz, one of only 3 remaining ICE detainees at Yuba County Jail amidst COVID outbreak
SAN FRANCISCO – The San Francisco Public Defender is urgently calling for ICE to release its client Ricardo Vasquez Cruz from civil immigration detention at the Yuba County Jail in light of a recent COVID outbreak in the facility. Mr. Vasquez, 46, suffers from medical issues that render him particularly vulnerable to the virus.
Mr. Vasquez reports from inside Yuba County Jail: “They moved us to a tiny corner of the jail. It feels like a punishment being here. For the past year, I’ve been having health problems and asking for the doctors to figure out what’s been going on. I feel like I could die in here and no one would notice. Now there is COVID all over the place in here. I’m just glad my family got to come and visit me before everything was locked down again. It’s very frustrating.”
Deputy Public Defender Jennifer Friedman, from the Immigration Defense Unit of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, represents Mr. Vasquez in his deportation case. He is fighting to remain with his family in the U.S. after an alcohol-related arrest in 2017 jeopardized his immigration status. His deportation case is currently on appeal at the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) for a second time.
“Enough is enough! Ricardo has been detained by ICE unnecessarily for over three years. Today, in light of the new risk to his health posed by the COVID outbreak in his jail, we cannot stand for one more day of detention! We call on ICE to immediately release Ricardo to his family where he can properly care for his health and can continue to fight for his legal right to remain in the U.S., his home for the past twenty-two years, and for the right to be reunited with his son and extended family,” said Ms. Friedman.
Mr. Vasquez has been detained by ICE for over three years while he fights his deportation case. He is one of the three remaining people being held in the Yuba County Jail, which has a federal contract to hold immigrants who have been detained by ICE for civil immigration violations. Throughout the pandemic, the facility has suffered COVID outbreaks, and January alone, at least 70 detainees and 13 staff members fell ill. Since April 2020, the Public Defender’s Office has been involved in litigation to protect the health and safety of immigrants detained at Yuba County Jail, leading to a significant depopulation of the facility. However, Mr. Vasquez remains inside.
Mr. Vasquez hopes to be released to his home with his aging mother, adolescent son, and siblings in the San Francisco Bay Area, where he can continue to participate in AA, return to his career, care for his health and his loved ones, and continue to fight his deportation case.
“After over three years, it is time to release Ricardo to his family instead of subjecting him to needless detention that threatens his health and well-being,” said Francisco Ugarte, Managing Attorney of the Immigration Defense Unit.
Mr. Vasquez has lived in the Bay Area since 1999 after fleeing El Salvador, where gangs had assaulted him and murdered his brother. He obtained temporary protected status in the U.S. and built a family and career as a sound communications engineer.
During a difficult period of his life, Mr. Vasquez was struggling with alcoholism, which led to alcohol-related arrests in 2016 and 2017, and he served six months in jail. Since then, he has turned his life around by engaging in extensive alcohol rehabilitation and adopting an unwavering commitment to his sobriety. A June 2021 evaluation by a licensed clinical psychologist concluded that Mr. Vasquez was at low risk for alcohol relapse and even lower risk of engaging in violent behavior. Despite his proven sobriety and extensive evidence of rehabilitation and community support, ICE continues to refuse to release him.
Mr. Vasquez is fighting against his deportation, not only to remain with his family, but also because his life is in danger if he is sent back to El Salvador.