SAN DIEGO (CNS) – An immigrant rights law firm has filed a petition in San Diego federal court asking for the release of four migrant detainees from the Otay Mesa Detention Center amid a COVID-19 outbreak at the facility.
The petition for habeas corpus alleges those in charge of running the facility have not taken steps to “adequately depopulate Otay Mesa, as expert opinion demands.”
As of Monday, 18 ICE detainees and eight ICE employees have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the latest numbers publicly released by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But a representative of CoreCivic, the private company that runs the Otay Mesa Detention Center, said 10 of its employees had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Monday.
CoreCivic and ICE representatives declined to comment regarding the Immigrant Defenders Law Center filing. A court hearing has yet not been scheduled.
The Immigrant Defenders Law Center, which filed the petition on Sunday, alleges one of its clients — Sergio Jaime Lopez, a 33-year-old from Nicaragua who tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday — should leave the facility due to his diagnosis and because he has “experienced serious delays in medical care” while detained.
The filing states that Lopez first reported his symptoms on April 13, but was not seen by a nurse until 16 hours later, then by a physician the following day. Social distancing at the facility was also essentially impossible, with Lopez at one time sleeping in a cell with seven other people, as well as spending time in a common living area with around 100 other men, the filing states.
In early April, some detainees in Lopez’s pod began displaying COVID- 19 symptoms, including one who tested positive prior to Lopez contracting the virus, according to court documents. He’s currently isolated with two other detainees who have tested positive, according to the filing.
The petitioners allege that at times, detainees have been provided masks under the requirement that they sign forms waiving the facility of liability, leading to hunger strikes and other “clashes between detainees and guards.” CoreCivic has denied that signing forms was required in order to receive masks.
The reported conditions at the facility led Sen. Kamala Harris, D- Calif., to call last week on the Department of Homeland Security to investigate the treatment of Otay Mesa detainees.
“Mr. Lopez’s illness is a direct consequence of the conditions at Otay Mesa since the COVID-19 outbreak began,” the motion states.
The petitioners argue Lopez’s long-term health is at risk the longer he remains at Otay Mesa, with the possibility of lingering heart, lung, and neurological problems even if he recovers from COVID-19.
The Immigrant Defenders Law Center is also asking that three other Otay Mesa detainees be released to family members and/or friends in the United States. The three other detainees have not tested positive for COVID-19, but have been housed in close quarters with detainees who have, according to court documents.
The filing noted San Diego County’s recent move to release hundreds of inmates from county jails in an effort to reduce the local jail population during the pandemic.
“Had Otay Mesa only taken such common-sense measures before Mr. Lopez fell ill, his health crisis could have been avoided,” the document states.
The American Civil Liberties Union’s San Diego chapter recently filed a lawsuit demanding the release of two detainees from Otay Mesa who, according to the ACLU, suffered from medical conditions that made them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.
The detainees were released shortly after the suit was filed, leading the ACLU to drop the lawsuit last week.