Activists gathered outside of McFarland’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities on Tuesday as a part of a statewide action at 30 detention centers demanding the release of detainees, and stopping inter-prison transfers and transfers to ICE facilities to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Organized by The California Liberation Collective, activists placed banners outside many of the state’s detention facilities that included many California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation prisons as well as ICE detention centers. Outside of GEO’s Golden State Annex in McFarland, banners were dropped that read “Free them all” and “Newsom COVID death camp.”
“ICE opened this facility (in September). They opened a new detention facility in the middle of a pandemic,” said Jeannie Parent, coordinator of Kern Welcoming & Extending Solidarity to Immigrants. “(The detainees here) completed their (prison) sentences; they should not be locked up. It’s a civil matter, immigration is a civil matter.”
Of the about 80 detainees at ICE’s McFarland center, two have already tested positive for COVID-19 and are in isolation, according to Parent and ICE. ICE began moving detainees into the center in September following a long legal battle to expand its capabilities in Kern County, as previously reported.
During the gathering, Parent read a statement from detainees in Dorm A-4 that demanded humane treatment, safety and protection.
“Our jailers imprisoned us without a plan. We repeatedly asked for hand sanitizer, face masks and other sanitary items only to be told they’re ironing things out as they go,” said the detainee statement that Parent read. “The toothbrushes they give us fall apart, forcing us to buy toothbrushes from their store. They won’t let us wear the clothes we already have, forcing us to buy shorts from their store.”
Their statement called their detention a “death sentence” and called on McFarland Mayor Sally Gonzalez to call an “emergency halt” on all GEO operations locally. Gonzalez did not respond to an immediate request for comment.
“Provide us with adequate testing, proper masks, social distance and sanitation,” said the detainee statement. “Resist from exploiting the vulnerabilities of the poor for your benefit.”
Parent said that many of the detainees at the McFarland center have been picked up by ICE as they were paroled from their CDCR incarceration. She pointed to other COVID-19 outbreaks at state detention centers as a warning sign.
An ICE spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment late Tuesday.
“What we’ve seen from San Quentin and other prisons, it’s a time bomb — a ticking time bomb — to have people confined with others in prison spaces during a pandemic,” Parent said.
In addition to demanding detainee releases and halting detention transfers, The California Liberation Collective also demands Gov. Gavin Newsom to stop the expansion of immigration detention throughout the state. They also ask Newsom to hold the detention industry accountable.
Activists across the state gathered at CDCR prisons that included San Quentin State Prison and California State Prison in Lancaster. In addition to Golden State Annex, activists also gathered outside of Yuba County Jail, where ICE detainees are held, Adelanto ICE Processing Center and Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego.
In Oakland, Jewish activists gathered outside of the Kehilla Community Synagogue.
“We call for communities, not cages. Let our people go; free them all,” said Julie Litwin, a representative from the synagogue.