March 11, 2020
Ed Sifuentes, ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties, 619-501-3408,

SAN DIEGO — Today, the ACLU Foundation of California sent letters to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) immigration detention center officials urging them to develop a comprehensive emergency plan for the prevention and management of potential Coronavirus (or COVID-19) cases at its detention centers.

In the letters, the ACLU asks for written responses from ICE and other detention center officials that explain how they plan to protect the health and wellbeing of people in their custody and people who work at the centers. The ACLU underscored in its letters that not having an effective plan, developed and implemented in coordination with state and local public health institutions, “may cost lives.”

The ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties (ACLUF-SDIC) sent letters to the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego County and the Imperial Regional Detention Facility in Imperial County (Calexico). The ACLU Foundation of Southern California sent letters the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in San Bernardino County and the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Facility in Kern County. The ACLU Foundation of Northern California sent a letter to the Yuba County Jail.

“ICE detention facilities in San Diego and Imperial counties must act quickly to put in place a comprehensive emergency plan that protects people in their custody from COVID-19,” said Monika Langarica, immigrants’ rights staff attorney for the ACLUF-SDIC. “The spread of the virus into a detention center would have devastating consequences for the people locked up inside.”

People confined in detention centers are highly vulnerable to contagious illnesses because they live in close quarters and because medical care in these facilities has been documented to be severely inadequate, according to the ACLU letters.

According to a story published last year by the Voice of San Diego, people held at the Otay Mesa Detention Center filed complaints that “serious medical conditions were being ignored or treated insufficiently.”

The ACLU letters cite several recommendations for reducing the threat of COVID-19, including reducing the population at the centers through release on bond or parole. ICE should also exercise discretion to halt or reduce the number of people who are newly arrested and detained.

The letters stress the need for humane, adequately equipped facilities to house people who get sick.

“ICE should proactively decrease the number of people it places at risk by releasing eligible people who are already in its prisons and reducing the number of people it chooses to detain,” Langarica said.

The letters addressed to officials at the Otay Mesa Detention Center and the Imperial Regional Detention Facility cite other matters that should be addressed in an effective plan, including:

  • Education of people in custody and staff on how to minimize the risk of contracting and spreading the virus;
  • Provisions inside the facilities for people in custody and staff to practice proper hygiene, including thorough hand washing, as prescribed by federal health officials;
  • Staffing plans for how the facilities can continue to operate if large numbers of staff are out sick;
  • Immediate testing of people in custody and staff who show any symptoms of infection; and
  • Implementation of additional precautions for anyone at high risk if infected, including pregnant people and people with chronic illnesses or compromised immune systems.

The ACLUF-SDIC’s letters to the Otay Mesa Detention Center and Imperial Regional Detention Facility request written responses from detention center officials by March 25, 2020.

Read the letters to officials here: