Otay Mesa Detention Center
The Otay Mesa Detention Center, which has seen the largest number of COVID-19 cases among the country’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities, is run by CoreCivic, a private company. Photo via corecivic.com.

The American Civil Liberties Union called Wednesday on the Biden administration to shut down 39 ICE detention facilities across the country, including the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego.

In a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the ACLU called for the closure of the facilities it alleges were opened without adequate justification, opened in remote locations with compromised access to legal counsel and external medical care, or have documented patterns of inhumane treatment.

The ACLU says there have been “documented patterns of abuse, mistreatment and misconduct” at the Otay Mesa Detention Center.

In a report the ACLU released earlier this month, the organization alleges failures at the facility to properly respond to the COVID-19 pandemic led to an outbreak that included the first death of a person in ICE custody to the virus. The report also alleges persistently inadequate medical care for detainees, dangerous building conditions, and abuse and retaliation against detainees and employees.

“Time and time again, the immigration detention facilities in San Diego and Imperial counties have proven to be unsafe, abusive and unable to uphold the due process rights of the people trapped inside,” said Monika Langarica, immigrants’ rights staff attorney for the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties. “It is past time to bring an end to the shameful practice of detaining immigrants in our region and across the country and embrace a policy of humane and fair processing.”

The ACLU said that decreased ICE arrest rates and reduced detention levels stemming from the pandemic warrant a reduction in ICE’s network of more than 200 facilities.

“The Biden administration was elected with a mandate to fix our broken immigration system, and immigrant detention is an early test of its resolve,” said Naureen Shah, senior advocacy and policy counsel at the ACLU.

“Closing detention sites should be a no-brainer. Millions of taxpayer dollars are being wasted to maintain thousands of empty beds and keep people seeking asylum and immigrants in inhumane and life-threatening conditions,” Shah said. “The number of detained people is currently lower than it’s been in two decades: President Biden has a unique moment to shrink the infrastructure that’s been used to abuse and traumatize immigrants for decades. It’s time to end our nation’s newest system of mass incarceration of Black and brown people.”

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