By Chris Stone
Demanding the immediate release of immigrants at the Otay Mesa Detention Center, the coalition Free Them All SD led a rally and march downtown Saturday in their fight for immigrant rights and racial justice.
Several hundred protesters gathered at the San Diego County Administration Building to make a series of demands in their continual fight to aid immigrant detainees, vulnerable during the coronavirus pandemic.
The “March to Free Them All” had signs reading: “Full rights for all immigrants,” “No more concentration camps,” “Abolish ICE” and “No human is illegal.”
Speakers dismissed the idea that electing (or defeating) any political figure would be enough to make the needed changes.
Rather, they called for a people’s rebellion against current systems — to right the inequities of the economy, the mistreatment of people of color and the policing and justice establishments. They saw no simple solutions at the ballot box.
Specific demands included immediate medical care and hygienic, regular and adequate food service, and an end to reprisals of detainees who protest facility conditions, including transfer to other prisons and loss of phone and commissary access.
Lastly, in solidarity with hunger strikes and organizers inside the detention facility, the group’s representatives asked for the closure and investigation of all detention camps including the CoreCivic-run Otay Mesa Detention Center with about 1,000 immigrants.
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Speakers at the event included Justin Akers Chacon of the AFT Immigrant Student Support Committee, Simeon Man of Critical Refugee Studies Collective, and DJ and writer Kuttin Kandi, who called on participants to “wage revolutionary love.”
“A lot of people feel that the living standards in the (detention) centers are absolutely abominable,” said Amber Decilap of Chula Vista. “They allow for he spread of COVID-19 in ways that should not be tolerated whatsoever. It’s a state-sanctioned massacre of immigrant communities.”
Rebecca Gilson of Free Them All said: “They have not even done the bare minimum to control COVID-19 within their facilities.”
She said the virus was spreading rapidly at the detention center.
“People are dying. People are getting sick,” Gilson said. “And they aren’t feeding people inside adequately.”
CoreCivic, a private company that runs the detention center for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, confirmed about 168 COVID-19 cases by the end of June among the detainees, and The Associated Press reported more than 30 workers testing positive.
Today, according to one speaker, the center has had at least 233 COVID cases.
Gilson continued: “We’re out here saying that Otay Detention Center should be closed. All detention centers should be closed. All prisons should be closed and we should not punish people who are moving (to the U.S.) to try to support their families and to try to find a better life.”
In early May, Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia, a 57-year-old Otay Mesa detainee from El Salvador, was the first in immigration custody nationwide to die from COVID-19.
The ACLU said at the time: “Unless ICE acts quickly to release far more people from detention, they will keep getting sick and many more will die.”
CoreCivic put out a statement at the time, saying everyone had received a mask and that they were continuing “to adapt our practices and policies in accordance with guidance from health experts to ensure the health and safety of our employees, those in our care and our communities.”
Asked what she hoped the rally and march would bring about, Decilap said: “For one thing, I hope to inconvenience people that are comfortable with the status quo because that is something that is the first step in all revolutions or social change — to make people uncomfortable with current living conditions to the point where they are more open to that kind of change that people have been resistant to.”
“Broader picture, ICE needs to be abolished,” she said. “There is no way to justify the way we are treating immigrants. ICE only serves to keep people in fear. (Immigrants) are people who contribute to the rich culture of California.”
Free Them All SD is a coalition of immigrant rights organization and activists committed to the closure of Otay Mesa Detention Center.
The organization is endorsed by Otay Mesa Detention Resistance, Center for Interdisciplinary Environmental Justice San Diego, American Federation of Teachers (Immigrant Student Support Committee), Jewish Action San Diego, Marx21, the Critical Refugee Studies Collective, Institute of Arts and Humanities UCSD, UCSD Faculty Association, Party of Socialism and Liberation San Diego, Faculty4COLA, Asian Solidarity Collective, Democratic Socialists of America-SD, California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, American Friends and Service Committee and Unión del Barrio.
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