SAN DIEGO (Border Report) — At least 16 detainees and eight employees have tested positive for the coronavirus inside the Otay Mesa Detention Center located less than a mile from the California-Mexico border.
No other detention facility of its kind has more.
Over the weekend, members of the trans-border human rights group Pueblo Sin Fronteras, recorded a conversation with a woman who claims to be in custody.
The call is less than three minutes long and it appears to have been recorded while the woman was in distress. The woman states that she and others are being pepper-sprayed and handcuffed because they refused to sign liability waivers in exchange for facemasks.
The woman and others, can be heard screaming and pleading for help saying, “It’s not fair what they’re doing to us.”
You can listen to the call in its entirety, but be warned, it is disturbing to hear and at times, hard to understand although English and Spanish transcriptions are included.
Just a few days ago, U.S. Senator from California, Kamala Harris, issued a statement about the Otay Mesa Detention Center and its handling of detainees during the current COVID-19 era.
“Every day that officials continue to lock up low-risk and vulnerable people is another day that people in U.S. custody, along with countless facility and court personnel, legal representatives, witnesses, and family members are put at risk of a preventable death from a deadly virus,” Harris said.
In a lengthy email to Border Report, CoreCivic, the company that operates Otay Mesa Detention Center, denied any mistreatment of detainees at its facility and responded to the claims that detainees were pepper-sprayed, as well as Harris’ claims.
In a section titled, “Regarding masks, no signed waiver will be required to receive a mask,” a CoreCivic spokesperson said, “We’ve been closely following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The CDC’s guidance on the use of masks has recently changed, and we’ve worked hard to quickly ensure that all of our staff and those in our care have access to masks consistent with this new guidance.”
CoreCivic said, “The CDC makes it clear that the mask recommendation ‘complements but does not replace’ other critical steps to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. To make sure that anyone wearing a mask fully understands that they may not be preventative and that it’s important to continue measures like social distancing and proper hygiene recommendations, we will provide an educational handout. Again, no signed waiver will be required to receive a mask.”
CoreCivic also called the pepper-spray allegations “patently false.”
“On April 10, there was no use of force at the Otay Mesa Detention Center, nor were any chemical agents dispersed,” the statement said. “It is true that face masks were issued to every individual in our care at Otay Mesa. The temporary removal of three detainees from one of the pods was in direct response to their being disruptive during the issuance of the face masks. At no time was any force used to remove these individuals, and they were returned to the pod a short while later.”
CoreCivic said the incident was reported to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Additionally, in response to Harris’ statement, CoreCivic said the company works closely with its partners at ICE and ICE Health Services Corps (IHSC), which provides the health care at the facility, “to ensure the health and safety of everyone at the Otay Mesa Detention Center.”
CoreCivic also outlined the steps it put in place several weeks ago to update and expand its response to COVID-19 at the facility. That includes: limiting movement around the facility; placing detainees who have tested positive for the coronavirus under quarantine; serving meals in the housing pods rather than the dining facility; and providing masks to all staff and detainees in accordance with updated CDC recommendations.
CoreCivic Confirmed that eight of its employees have tested positive for COVID-19, but referred questions about detainees to ICE and IHSC.
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