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Immigrant detainee tests positive for coronavirus at Mesa Verde

Mesa Verde (copy)

GEO Group Inc. is a private company that operates Mesa Verde.

An incoming detainee at the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center in Bakersfield tested positive for coronavirus, according to lawyers involved in a class-action lawsuit against the government agency.

In a Monday case management conference, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement informed lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California and San Francisco Public Defender’s Office that an individual who was brought to Mesa Verde from another facility on July 1 had tested positive for COVID-19, according to Valerie Ibarra, a spokesperson for the Public Defender’s Office. She said the person had been transferred to a medical unit at Mesa Verde and six people who had come into contact with the infected individual had subsequently been transferred to an ICE facility in Adelanto.

According to court documents, ICE must file a declaration with the court Monday explaining any significant measures it and GEO Group Inc — the private prison company that operates Mesa Verde — have taken to improve the safety conditions at Mesa Verde, or why certain measures haven't been taken.

Ibarra said little information beyond what ICE had reported during Monday's meeting was available.

On its website, ICE said one inmate at Mesa Verde had tested positive and was currently under isolation or monitoring.

ICE Spokesman Jonathan Moor said in a statement ICE has taken significant proactive measures to reduce the risk associated with COVID-19. He added special sanitation teams sterilize high-contact areas of the facility.

In an email to The Californian, a GEO spokesman said that as of Wednesday, two GEO staff members and one subcontractor had tested positive at Mesa Verde. The three individuals are currently at home on self-quarantine.

The spokesman said numerous measures were being taken at Mesa Verde to reduce the risk of coronavirus spread, including providing masks to all staff and detainees.

"We take our responsibility to ensure the health and safety of all those in our care and our employees with the utmost seriousness," the spokesman wrote in the email, "and we will continue to work with the federal government and local health officials to implement best practices for the prevention, assessment and management of COVID-19, consistent with the latest guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Advocates for immigrants detained at Mesa Verde have warned against the risk of COVID-19 exposure since the pandemic began.

“It was only a matter of time before the virus reached Mesa Verde, and folks detained there, and their supporters have been sounding the alarm,” said Susan Beaty, a lawyer with Centro Legal De La Raza, which represents clients at Mesa Verde. “Now that the virus has arrived, they have even less time to take the really urgent steps that are the necessary steps to prevent further illness and death.”

Alexander Labastida, who has been detained at Mesa Verde for a little over a month, said he was tested for the virus because he came into contact with an infectious staffer, but he hasn’t received results yet.

“I went to take the test and everything and they haven’t even given me my results. It happened two or three weeks ago,” he said in a phone interview. “I’ve been requesting for my test results and the only thing they said is it’s in processing.”

Detainees have initiated hunger strikes periodically since the pandemic began. Labastida said he and a handful of other detainees would conclude another hunger strike Friday. This time, the strike had lasted around a week. Labastida said he was participating to protest the poor quality of his food and the lack of cleaning products provided to detainees.

He added it was difficult to maintain a six-foot perimeter around other detainees in the facility’s dorms, and more detainees kept getting transferred in from other locations, a point of concern among strikers.

He said he hoped to be released.

You can reach Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.