Otay mesa detention center

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Watchdog: ICE spent $22 million for unused beds at San Diego immigration detention

Immigration and Customs Enforcement spent upwards of $22 million on empty beds at Otay Mesa Detention Center from April 2020 to March 2021.

That’s according to a report published Friday from the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General that identified several issues that “compromised the health, safety, and rights of detainees.”

The OIG conducted an unannounced, remote inspection of the facility in the spring. The government researchers found that Otay Mesa staff did not consistently enforce COVID-19 safety measures, including requiring detainees to wear masks in their housing units and maintaining safe distances.

They said that both CoreCivic staff and ICE staff did not follow national detention standards involving handling detainee grievances and that ICE did not adequately communicate its officers’ availability with detainees. They also found that detainees held in segregation, or solitary confinement, were sometimes not given access to certain required services such as recreation, laundry or the law library.

ICE did not respond to a request for comment.

Ryan Gustin, a spokesman for CoreCivic, said that all but one of the report’s recommendations have already been resolved and that ICE disagreed with that unresolved recommendation.

“We value the feedback we get from our government partners and strive to be responsive to their concerns,” he said.

The OIG recommended that ICE consider renegotiating its contract for the facility. CoreCivic, the private prison company that owns and operates Otay Mesa Detention Center, has a guaranteed minimum payment set in the contract, meaning that no matter how many people are held there, ICE will pay for at least 750 beds.

The number of people held in immigration detention decreased under the COVID-19 pandemic — in part because of federal court orders to release medically vulnerable immigration detainees. At Otay Mesa, the number of detainees dropped as low as 309 as the average monthly population, or less than half the minimum number of beds that the federal government must pay for.

That meant that the cost per actual detainee more than doubled at the facility from April to January, when the monthly cost per detainee peaked at $13,466.60.

In quarterly earnings calls since the beginning of the pandemic, CoreCivic executives often assure investors that these guaranteed minimum payments keep their facilities profitable.

The OIG report also found that while the number of detainees held at the facility had decreased substantially, staff at the facility were not using the extra space to spread out detainees to allow for more social distancing. Instead, staff consolidated detainees into certain housing units and closed others, the report says.

ICE pushed back on the recommendation to renegotiate the contract, arguing that the agency is following COVID-19 protocols, including using certain housing units as quarantine spaces for new arrivals.

In its response to ICE, the OIG said that answer was not sufficient to resolve the issue.

“Otay Mesa fell well under the COVID-19 population protocols with its daily populations less than half of the guaranteed minimum that ICE pays for daily,” the report says. “We will close this recommendation when we receive documentation showing that ICE has developed and implemented a revised housing plan to better address social distancing to reduce health risks related to exposure to and transmission of COVID-19. ICE should also review contracting options if populations continue to remain well under the guaranteed minimums outlined in the contract.”

The report also found that Otay Mesa’s protocols violated a detention standard that requires complaints about facility staff to go immediately to ICE. That violation could make it more likely that staff retaliate against detainees because ICE doesn’t know about the complaint, the report says.

Several civil rights organizations recently filed a complaint alleging retaliation against detainees for protesting conditions at several private detention facilities in California, including Otay Mesa Detention Center.

Gustin said that detainees have hotlines they can call to report allegations.

“Our ICE-contracted facilities are contractually required and held accountable to federal Performance-Based National Detention Standards, which include guidelines for the safe and appropriate accommodation of all detainees,” Gustin said. “To ensure compliance and accountability, ICE maintains full-time, onsite staff who monitor conditions and contractual performance. These officials always have unfettered access to detainees, CoreCivic staff, and all areas of our facilities.

“We don’t cut corners on care, staff, or training, which meets, and in many cases exceeds, our government partners’ standards,” he added.

Toward the beginning of the pandemic, the south San Diego facility was a hot spot for COVID-19 cases. For several weeks, it had the most cases of any immigration detention facility in the country.

CoreCivic staff initially offered masks to detainees in April 2020, but on the first day that masks were available, detainees were required to sign forms releasing CoreCivic from liability in order to get one. CoreCivic changed its policy later that day to give out masks without signatures, the OIG found, but not before upsetting many detainees.

The OIG researchers tried to look into allegations from detainees in a women’s housing unit that they had either been threatened with pepper spray or actually pepper sprayed after they protested having to sign the forms. According to the report, Otay Mesa Detention Center staff told the researchers that the video footage of the incident hadn’t been saved.

Calls for investigations came quickly after the incident was first reported by The San Diego Union-Tribune, including from the office of then-Senator Kamala Harris. Gustin did not respond specifically to a question from the Union-Tribune about why video footage wasn’t preserved given the attention surrounding the incident.

The facility has been working to vaccinate detainees since February 2021.

Sours: https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/immigration/story/2021-09-17/ice-san-diego-immigration-detention

Otay Mesa Detention Center: Visitation Policy Victory

In October 2018, Freedom for Immigrants sent U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) a letter regarding CCA/CoreCivic’s visitation policy at Otay. The policy has prevented countless families from visiting their loved ones if they are not on a limited approved visitor list, which has to be set up by the person in detention with the private prison staff. It also has prevented community volunteers from visiting people who ask for a visitor. The policy, we noted, was in direct violation of ICE’s 2011 Performance-Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS), with which Otay is supposed to comply. The PBNDS 2011 states clearly: “Facilities shall not require approved visitor lists from ICE/ERO detainees.”

Read the complaint here.


CRCL responded saying that “Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the Otay Mesa Detention Center (OMDC) contacted CoreCivic regarding the approved visitation list set forth in this matter. CoreCivic agreed to remove its requirement for approved visitor lists as a condition of visitation for detainees within the Otay Mesa Detention Center. ICE has also requested CoreCivic to revise its written policies to reflect such change. CoreCivic has agreed to make this revision and will provide ICE an update on this matter soon.” As of December 2018, CCA/CoreCivic has made this change.

Read the CRCL response here.

Read CCA/CoreCivic’s new policy here.


“This is a key victory for government transparency because it enables community volunteers to visit people in immigration detention and monitor detention conditions without undue barriers,” said Christina Fialho, co-founder/executive director of Freedom for Immigrants. “We must fight to end any and all barriers that further separate families and keep advocates, lawmakers and the public in the dark about conditions inside immigrant prisons.”

CCA/CoreCivic’s prior policy of requiring approved visitor lists posed significant issues for detained individuals, especially people seeking asylum. They make up a large percentage of the facility’s population and may not have prior relationships with people within visiting distance or elsewhere in the country. Even those who do have loved ones near the detention facility faced barriers in adding to or changing their approved visitation lists due to language difficulties or lack of orientation regarding visitation policy.

It is important to note that all other ICE-contracted prisons and county jails in California do not require an approved visitor list and are in compliance with this provision of the PBNDS 2011.

“This victory is especially important right now as asylum seekers with the migrant caravan are being arrested at the border and then imprisoned in Otay and other immigrant prisons,” said Rebecca Merton, the national director of visitation and independent monitoring with Freedom for Immigrants. “While we are glad CCA/CoreCivic is implementing this reasonable change, after years of our advocacy, we must continue to hold them accountable.”

Freedom for Immigrants has documented widespread abuse at CCA/CoreCivic’s Otay Detention Facility over the years. In April 2017, Freedom for Immigrants (formerly CIVIC) documented how Otay is among the top five detention facilities nationwide with the highest number of complaints related to sexual and/or physical abuse incidents. This summer, Freedom for Immigrants reported incidents of hate or bias motivated by xenophobia at Otay, such as when an individual was denied pain medication and an X-ray as a result of the prison’s medical staff stated dislike of “illegals [that] only come to the US to steal jobs from White people.”

Sours: https://www.freedomforimmigrants.org/otay-mesa-detention-center
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Otay Mesa Detention Center (San Diego CDF)

Contacting a Detainee

If you need information about a detainee that is housed at this facility, you may call (619) 671-8700 between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. When you call, please have the individual’s biographical information ready, including first, last and hyphenated names, any aliases he or she may use, date of birth and country of birth.

Detainees cannot receive incoming calls. If you need to get in touch with a detainee to leave an urgent message, you must call (619) 671-8724 and leave the detainee’s full name, alien registration number and your name and telephone number where you can be reached. The detainee will be given your message.

Legal & Case Information

Immigration Court

For information about a matter before the immigration court, you may call 1-800-898-7180 to speak with them directly. Applications for relief from removal and other applications requested by the immigration judge must be filed directly with the immigration court.

Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA)

For information about a matter before the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), you may call (703) 605-1007 where you can obtain automated information or speak with a live representative during office hours.

Nationwide pro bono representatives listing →

To Post a Delivery Bond

Delivery bonds are posted when a person has been taken into ICE custody and placed into removal proceedings while in the United States. The person posting the bond must show proof of identity (valid Government-issued photo identification, passport, military ID, LPR card, driver’s license, etc.). This person (the obligor) is responsible for ensuring that the alien presents them self before an officer or representative of this agency whenever a request is made.

Bonds for aliens detained by ICE may be posted at ICE ERO bond acceptance offices nationwide, Monday through Friday (except public holidays) between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., local time. For a list of ICE ERO bond acceptance offices nearest you or for bond information, click here. You must have the last name of the detainee and alien registration number before calling. Acceptable forms of payment to post a bond are money orders, cashier’s checks or certified checks. For all bonds $10,000 and over, the only accepted method of payment is a single cashier or certified check. Payments must be made payable to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security” or “Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”

Hours of Visitation

Friends and Family Visits

DayVisitation Time
Video Visitation
Monday-Sunday8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Contact Visitation
Saturday, Sunday, Holidays9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Video Visitation is conducted seven (7) days a week, including holidays between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. To ensure adequate time to process visitors through security, all visitors must arrive 30 minutes prior to the scheduled visit time.
  • Contact Visitation is conducted Saturday, Sunday, and Holidays between the hours of 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. Visitors will need to schedule an appointment 10 days prior by sending an email to [email protected]
  • Visits will be a minimum of 60 minutes.
  • Minors who are visiting the facility must be accompanied by an adult guardian (18 years or older). Minors must not be left unaccompanied in the waiting room, visiting room or any other area.
  • For information on specific Contact Visitation hours contact (619) 671-8724

Adult visitors must present a valid, verifiable government-issued identification card to enter the facility.

Minors who are visiting the facility must be accompanied by an adult guardian (18 years or older). Minors must not be left unaccompanied in the waiting room, visiting room or any other area.

Attorney Visits

Legal representatives of detainees are authorized to visit their clients during the following hours:

Attorneys and/or paralegals may visit detainees seven days a week from 8:30 a.m. until 9:30 p.m., including holidays.

A list of pro bono (free) legal organizations will be posted in all detainee housing units and other appropriate areas. This list shall be updated quarterly. If a detainee wishes to see a representative or paralegal from that organization, it is the detainee’s responsibility to contact them for an appointment.

Video Teleconferencing

Legal representatives may request video teleconference (VTC) meetings with their clients or prospective clients by email at [email protected] The OMDC Visitation Staff will email back with a confirmed date and time. Please see the flyer for details.

The email should include:

  • Legal representative’s full name
  • Legal representative’s contact information, including phone number(s), email address, and Skype ID
  • Detainee’s name
  • Detainee’s alien number
  • A few proposed times/dates for the requested VTC session
  • A scan of the legal representative’s government issued identification
  • A scan of the legal representative’s identification or documentation reflecting their status as an active legal representative, such as a state bar card, attorney license, paralegal license, or similar legal status.
  • A scan of the attorney’s DHS Form G-28 (unless this is a pre-representational)
  • If a legal assistant is the only legal representative to join the call, the email should also attach a letter of authorization on the firm’s/organization’s letterhead and a scan of the assistant’s identification.

Legal representatives may also schedule VTC meetings or calls by dialing (619) 671-8836 for the Visitation Staff responsible for scheduling.

All appointments for VTC meetings or phone calls should be made 24 hours prior to the desired appointment time. Appointments are scheduled from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and are in 30- to 60-minute increments. Legal representatives are not limited on the number of VTC appointments they can request, but no legal representative is permitted more than one 60-minute appointment with a detainee in a single day.

The same guidelines for in-person attorney/client visits will apply to VTC meetings and legal calls. Only legal representatives, legal assistants, and interpreters will be allowed; no family or friends of the clients are permitted. The attorney and/or his/her agents may contact outside interpretation services during the call or session. The sessions will be confidential; a visitation officer will be stationed outside of the confidential room to ensure security by standing out of earshot but within eyeshot. The officer will knock 5 minutes before the cut off time.

Consular Visits

Consular officials may meet with their detained nationals at any time. It is requested that prior arrangements be made with the ICE Supervisory Deportation Officer to the extent possible, and that consular officials bring appropriate credentials when they come to the facility. The ICE Supervisory Deportation Officer for this facility can be reached at (619) 661-3824.

Clergy Visits

Clergy may visit detainees at any time, but must make prior arrangements with the Chaplain’s Office.

Visiting Restrictions

  • All family or other social visits are Non-contact.
  • No firearms or weapons of any kind are permitted in the facility.
  • If visitors are or appear to be intoxicated, visitation will not be allowed.
  • All visitors are subject to search while in the facility.
  • Visitors are not allowed to pass or attempt to pass any items to detainees.
  • Visitors are not allowed to carry any items into the visitation area.

Search Procedures (prior to or during all visitations)

All individuals requesting admittance to the facility or the visitation area are subject to a pat-down search of their person, an inspection of their belongings, and a metal scan search. Individuals refusing to cooperate with a reasonable search will not be admitted. No firearms or weapons of any kind are permitted. No electronic devices (cell phones, pagers, radios, etc.) are permitted in the secure areas of this facility.

Sending Items to Detainees

Letters sent to detainees must include the last four digits of the detainee’s A-number (File Number), plus the sender’s name and address. To enhance the safety of the facility, all incoming mail is subject to screening for contraband. The mail is not read upon opening, only inspected by the delivering officer. Detainees may send mail from the facility. Detainees may seal their outgoing letters and place them in the provided receptacle. All incoming mail will be delivered to the detainee, and outgoing mail will be routed to the proper postal office within 24 hours of receipt by facility staff. A mail pick-up and delivery schedule is posted in all housing units.

Detainees are allowed to purchase stamps for use. Generally, there is no limit to the amount of correspondence detainees may send at their own expense. Indigent detainees (those who have no means of financial support and no funds in their facility account) will be provided postage allowance at government expense.

When detainees depart the facility or are transferred to another facility, only their legal mail will be forwarded to them. General correspondence will be endorsed "Return to Sender" and returned to the post office.

If detainees receive funds in the mail, they will be taken to the processing area for the money to be placed into their account. The processing officer will provide a receipt for all funds received. Detainees are cautioned not to have cash sent to them in the mail.

A detainee may receive items that are determined to be of necessity for the sole purpose of travel or release from agency custody with approval of the ICE Deportation Officer.

Before sending packages to detainees, contact the Facility Warden at facility at:

CCA – Otay Mesa Detention Facility
P.O. Box 438150
San Diego, CA 92143

Note that detainees being removed from the United States are allowed one small piece of luggage. If a detainee does not have such baggage, such luggage can be sent/delivered after receiving approval from Supervisory Deportation Officer. Please be advised that for security reasons, no electronic devices (cell phones, electric razors, laptop computers, radios, etc.) will be accepted.

Press & Media

The Facility has a responsibility to protect the privacy and other rights of detainees and members of the staff. Therefore, interviews will be regulated to ensure the orderly and safe operation of the Facility. Ordinarily, live television or radio interviews will not be permitted in the facility. For media inquiries about ICE activities, operations, or policies, contact the ICE Office of Public Affairs (OPA) at (202) 732-4242 or email [email protected]

Personal Interviews

A news media representative who desires to conduct an interview with a detainee must apply in writing to the San Diego Field Office, Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations, indicating familiarity with and agreement to comply with the rules and regulations of the facility as provided to that person by staff.

Detainee Consent

A detainee has the right not to be interviewed, photographed, or recorded by the media. Before interviewing, photographing, or recording the voice of a detainee, a visiting representative of the media must obtain written permission from that individual.


The Facility has a responsibility to protect the privacy and other rights of detainees and members of the staff. Therefore, interviews will be regulated to ensure the orderly and safe operation of the Facility. Ordinarily, live television or radio interviews will not be permitted in the facility. For media inquiries about ICE activities, operations, or policies, contact the ICE Office of Public Affairs (OPA) at (202) 732-4242 or email [email protected]

Personal Interviews

A news media representative who desires to conduct an interview with a detainee must apply in writing to the San Diego Field Office, Office of Enforcement and Removal Operations, indicating familiarity with and agreement to comply with the rules and regulations of the facility as provided to that person by staff.

Detainee Consent

A detainee has the right not to be interviewed, photographed, or recorded by the media. Before interviewing, photographing, or recording the voice of a detainee, a visiting representative of the media must obtain written permission from that individual.

Feedback or Complaints

We strive to provide quality service to people in our custody, their family, friends, and to their official representatives. If you believe that we have not lived up to this commitment, we would like to know. If we have met or exceeded your expectations, please let us know that as well. 

To comment on the services provided at this office, please write to:

Field Office Director, Enforcement and Removal Operations
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
880 Front Street, Suite 2232
San Diego, CA 92101

If you feel that an ICE employee or contract services employee mistreated you and wish to make a complaint of misconduct, you may:

Contact the Field Office Director at:
Field Office Director, Enforcement and Removal Operations
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
880 Front Street, Suite 2232
San Diego, CA 92101

Write the Office of Professional Responsibility:

Director, Office of Professional Responsibility
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
P.O. Box 14475
Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, D.C. 20044

Contact the Joint Intake Center:

Phone Number: 1-877-2INTAKE
Email: [email protected]

You may also contact the Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General:

DHS Office of Inspector General
Attn: Office of Investigations - Hotline
245 Murray Drive, Building 410 Stop: 2600
Washington, DC 20528
Call: 1-800-323-8603
Fax: 202-254-4292
[email protected]

Sours: https://www.ice.gov/detain/detention-facilities/otay-mesa-detention-center-san-diego-cdf
Protesters demand Otay Mesa Detention Center release detainees amid COVID-19 outbreak

Complaint alleges retaliation at immigration detention facilities after protests over conditions

A man held at Otay Mesa Detention Center said that employees at the facility harassed him in retaliation for his leadership in protests over conditions during a COVID-19 outbreak there last year.

The allegation is part of a complaint filed last week by California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice, Centro Legal de la Raza and the American Civil Liberties Union that says detainees at California immigration detention centers faced retaliation from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and its contractors after organizing hunger strikes and other protests over unsanitary conditions. In addition to the story of the man at Otay Mesa, it details what happened to immigration detainees who tried to peacefully protest their conditions at Yuba County Jail, Mesa Verde Detention Facility, Adelanto Detention Facility and Golden State Annex.

Monika Langarica, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties, said that retaliation was a direct violation of the detainees’ First Amendment rights.

“Taken together, these instances and the patterns that we are identifying across these detention centers really paint a picture of ICE detention conditions across the board being so appalling and so inhumane that it drives people to desperation — to hunger strikes, prayer vigils and other kinds of peaceful protests — to draw attention to their suffering,” Langarica said. “Instead of taking meaningful measures to address these concerns, which are related to legitimate health and safety issues in the middle of the pandemic, ICE and its private contractors instead retaliate against those people to silence them.”

The complaint asks the Department of Homeland Security Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties to investigate the allegations and to make recommendations to ICE to stop future retaliation, including calling on the agency to terminate its contracts with the private prison companies at the named facilities.

When asked about the complaint, ICE said that it does not comment on pending litigation. CoreCivic, the private prison company that owns and operates Otay Mesa Detention Center, said that the ACLU’s work on the complaint was not reliable because the organization wants to end private prisons.

“We deny the specious and sensationalized allegations contained in this complaint related to CoreCivic and our Otay Mesa Detention Center,” spokesperson Ryan Gustin said. “These allegations are designed to exert political pressure rather than to serve as an objective description of the affirmative, proactive measures that OMDC has undertaken for over a year to address this unprecedented pandemic.

“We have worked together closely with our government partners and state health officials to respond to this unprecedented situation appropriately, thoroughly and with care for the well-being of those entrusted to us and our communities,” Gustin added. “We believe this is why conditions at OMDC have stabilized, yet we remain vigilant.”

Anthony Alexandre, the man held at Otay Mesa Detention Center, reported being pepper sprayed by guards, being threatened with deportation and having his medical accommodations taken away. He spoke with The San Diego Union-Tribune about many of the incidents over the course of 2020 as part of the newspaper’s coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak at the facility that for weeks was the largest of any outbreak at an immigration detention facility nationwide.

As someone who suffered from asthma as a child and who has high blood pressure as an adult, he worried that his continued detention would lead to his death as the virus spread through Otay Mesa Detention Center.

It was Alexandre’s willingness to speak with reporters and to lead fellow detainees on hunger strikes that led to the retaliation, the complaint says.

Alexandre, a green card holder from Haiti who has been in the United States since 1990, told the Union-Tribune last year that he ended up at Otay Mesa Detention Center after serving more than 4 years at a state prison for a domestic violence conviction. He is being held in immigration custody while he fights in court to keep his green card.

According to the complaint, when he and other detainees in his housing unit, known at the facility as pods, began a hunger strike in mid-April, Kelley Beckhelm, the assistant officer in charge for the San Diego ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations Field Office, came to their pod and said, “Are you really going to do this? If you don’t eat, we are going to make sure you get deported.”

Among the hunger strikers was Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia, who became the first immigration detainee nationwide to die from COVID-19.

About a week later, guards told the housing unit that they would be joined with a different pod that had already had some detainees test positive for the coronavirus. When the detainees protested the move, the guards pepper sprayed them and forced them to the other housing unit. The complaint says that Alexandre contracted the virus as a result of switching areas.

Alexandre submitted multiple requests for release under a judge’s order that those with medical vulnerabilities be released from immigration detention facilities during the pandemic. According to the complaint, Alexandre believes that ICE has denied his request because of his media appearances and other activism.

Under the judge’s order, ICE said it would continue to keep some people in detention because of their criminal histories.

When asked about that possibility in Alexandre’s case, Langarica pointed to the fact that immigration detention is civil detention, not criminal.

“ICE’s hands are not tied,” Langarica said. “ICE can release people and when people in detention are subject to serious illness or death because of their detention, ICE can and should release them. When it declines to do that, especially with people who have taken actions to demand better conditions for themselves and other people, at the very least, that merits a very close investigation of whether ICE is engaging in retaliatory behavior.”

Alexandre also said in the complaint that he has faced retaliation from a CoreCivic unit manager identified as Handsbur who he filed a grievance about in early 2020 because she was yelling at detainees. In May 2021, he was transferred to the pod where she worked as unit manager.

Handsbur “berated” Alexandre for having a chair in his cell, a medical accommodation that he’d been given, the complaint says. In June, while he was receiving medical care, his chair was removed from his cell along with a prayer blanket. Alexandre protested their removal as harassment, and Handsbur wrote him up.

The next day, Alexandre was in his cell undressing when Handsbur opened the door and looked at him in his boxers. Despite Alexandre’s repeated protests that he was not clothed, Handsbur delayed leaving.

Alexandre “was shaking, frightened, and startled by Handsbur’s unwarranted intrusion,” the complaint says. When he told medical staff about the incident of sexual harassment, an ICE officer identified as Redcay in the complaint accused him of lying.

“Why do you want to bite the hand that feeds you?” Redcay said, according to the complaint. “We’re not going to help you. You’re going to stay here.”

For Langarica, the allegation of retaliation through sexual harassment is especially egregious.

“The allegations really expose the ways that these facilities can exploit the vulnerability of people who are detained inside of them,” Langarica said.

Alexandre has continued to face retaliation from Handsbur since the incident, the complaint says.

Sours: https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/immigration/story/2021-08-30/retaliation-immigration-detention

Center otay mesa detention

As Immigration Detainees Become Fewer, ACLU Wants Otay Mesa Detention Center Closed

The number of detained immigrants nationwide reached a high of more than 50,000 in 2019. Since then the number has fallen to around 15,000 people.

Lawyers with the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties say that drop proves immigration detention is unnecessary, with no tangible impact on public safety or the functioning of the immigration courts system.

“The bottom line is that people can be released due to orders that call for a large number of people released at once, and the system will not fall apart," said Monika Langarica, an attorney with the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. "It will continue to operate as it has. People will continue to show up for immigration court."

RELATED: Left With Nothing By Biden Administration, Migrant Families In Tijuana Face An Impossible Choice

In a new issue brief being distributed this week, the ACLU is highlighting allegations of abuse at the Otay Mesa Detention Center, which is run by the private prison company CoreCivic.

These include medical neglect, poor sanitation, sexual abuse and the use of solitary confinement.

“This reliance on private corporations in immigration detention and incarceration really incentivizes mistreatment and abuse by encouraging corporations to keep costs down, to increase profits,” Langarica said.

The issue briefing calls for the closure of Otay Mesa and the enforcement of a new California law banning the use of private prisons. But Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Core Civic signed a last-minute contract extension, meant to circumvent the new law.

As Immigration Detainees Become Fewer, ACLU Wants Otay Mesa Detention Center Closed

It’s unclear just how long CoreCivic will continue to be allowed to operate in the state.

UPDATE 04/22/21: In response to this story, a spokesperson from CoreCivic reached out to KPBS to refute the claims in the ACLU's issue brief.

"We deny the specious and sensationalized allegations contained in the ACLU brief," the spokesperson wrote in an email to KPBS. "These allegations are designed to exert political pressure rather than to serve as an objective description of the affirmative, proactive measures that OMDC has undertaken for over a year to address this unprecedented pandemic."

Sours: https://www.kpbs.org/news/border-immigration/2021/04/21/detainee-population-falls-aclu-otay-mesa-closed
Otay Mesa Detention Center See Rise In COVID-19 Cases

About the location

Location type

Detention centre


United States



The Otay Mesa Detention Center (OMDC) is a private facility contracted by Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) and the United States Marshall Service (USMS) to detain noncitizens in the United States. As of 2017 the facility could detain up to 1.572 people (1318 males and 254 females) and in 2019 it started expanding to increase its capacity. The facility is fully owned and managed by Core Civic (formerly CCA), a corporation that specializes in private prisons and detention centers. CCA was founded in 1983, and it is the first for-profit prison contractor ever to operate in the US.

OMDC started operating in its current location in 2015, but CCA managed a detention center in Otay Mesa since 1998. The first facility to operate as such was the San Diego Contract Correctional Facility (SDCFF). This detention center was managed for ICE by CCA, but the facility was owned by the Sheriff office, which leased it to CCA. The SDCFF was located in a cluster of other pre-trial detention facilities serving San Diego county, and it was close to the Richard J. Donovan State Prison.

In 2013 CCA started the construction of a new, bigger detention center that was to be fully owned by the contractor. The new center became fully operational in 2015 and it is currently one of the largest in California. It is located in close proximity to the US-Mexico border, and it detains a large number of asylum seekers that enter the US in the section of the border between Mexico and California. Away from residential zones, the center stands in a desertic area in a cluster of industrial and correctional facilities. It is well connected with the city of San Diego through the State Route 125 and the Interstate 805. However, there is no public transportation serving OMDC.


The center detains people for ICE and USMS. ICE detains people under deportation or removal proceedings, while USMS detains non citizens who are awaiting trial in federal court, usually for border-related crimes or infractions (that can range from drug trafficking to illegal re-entry). Core Civic is required to provide a different section of the center to each agency, and while the two sections do not communicate, it is not unusual for detainees to be moved from one to another depending on their legal situation.

In each section people are housed in different housing units that are called pods. Each pod contains a variable number of cells and a common area.

Additionally, each section (ICE and USMS) has a segregation unit for solitary confinement. The segregation unit houses either people who willingly accept solitary confinement as a form of protection, or those who violate the center’s rules. While ICE and Core Civic assure that solitary confinement is used as a last resort, the reality that emerges from the testimonies of people who are detained is quite different. Core Civic staff uses solitary to deal with any “infraction”. Infractions can range from violent behaviors against other prisoners to resistance or defiance against staff. Testimonies show a clear pattern where the staff use solitary confinement to coerce people into following orders.


Upon their arrival detainees are given a few essential items. These include orthopedic open shoes, their uniform, sheets, a towel, a toothbrush, and a bar of soap. Any additional item must be bought in the commissary.  Like most detention centers in the US, OMDC uses a commissary system: each person has an account where they deposit money that can be spent inside. Far from being a luxury, commissary sells essential items that are severely overpriced. Items sold in the stores include, for example, clothes, hygiene items, and food.

For people detained at OMDC additional clothes are essential, because the temperature inside the center is kept very low throughout the whole year. The uniform and sheets that people are issued upon arrival are insufficient to keep them warm, and those that can’t afford better clothing suffer from the cold, and have trouble sleeping. Hygiene items are also essential, and more importantly the commissary sells feminine-care items, including tampons. As for food, meals in the center are scarce and of poor quality. Many inside lament that they regularly go hungry, and some accuse significant weight losses during the first months of detention. This scarcity of essential items forces people to buy what they can from the commissary.

People who do not have families that can put money in their account can “voluntarily” work for the administration to get money to survive. OMDC uses detainees’ work for cleaning, cooking, and other routine activities. This saves Core Civic significant sums, because workers are paid 1$ for a 6 hour day of work. These wages would not be possible in prisons, but detention centers are not subjected to the same legal regulations as the federal or state prison systems. Moreover, workers regularly lament that they are paid late or not paid in full for their work hours.

Finally, money is also necessary to call or write people outside the facility. Detainees have a “phone fund” that they can use to make calls. As for letters, while paper is given to them free of charge (unlike in other detention centers) they have to buy the stamps.


Since its inception, OMDC has racked a long list of abuses against detained people inside. Between 2003 and 2019 seven detainees have died, either inside the center or shortly after being hospitalized. Critics have accused the center of not offering adequate medical care to people inside. OMDC has also recorded the first death caused by Covid 19 in detention facilities in the US (more about it below).

In 2018 OMDC was also the detention center with the highest incidence of sexual abuse on a national level. Beside the abuses that are formally denounced in court, people inside constantly denounce physical and mental abuses by the staff. These include beatings, large use of solitary confinement, humiliation, and gratuitous use of pepper spray.


The population is extremely heterogenous. Some are foreign nationals who have spent considerable lengths of time in the US. These are usually Mexicans or Central Americans. They are detained either because they have lived undocumented before being captured, or because they committed infractions that resulted in the loss of their legal statuses. People in the latter condition have often being sentenced in a criminal court, and once their sentences run out, they are transferred to OMDC to await deportation.

Additionally, a large part of the population is made up of migrants who were detained at the border. Most of these migrants are asylum seeker. The majority are Mexicans or Central Americans, particularly Salvadorians, Guatemalans, and Hondurans. However, the center also detains people from other Latin American countries, and from all over the world.


In mid-March 2020 the center closed visitations, and on April 2 they started to apply quarantine measures. Detainees cannot leave their pod and eat either in the common areas or in their cells. Updated reports on what goes on in the facility can be found at the Freedom For Immigrant detention map. Freedom for Immigrants updates daily news for each facility in the US based on the testimonies of the people detained inside that call the FFI hotline.

OMDC is the detention center in the US with the highest number of registered cases of Covid. On May 6, the center registered the first death from Covid in American correctional facilities. Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia was a Salvadoran national that had been detained by ICE in January. He was 58, suffered from diabetes, and had lost his right foot in a medical operation. He had a bond hearing shortly before his death, where he argued that his medical condition made him extremely vulnerable to Covid and pleaded to let him out on bond. Despite Meja’s pleas, ICE opposed his release claiming that he was at high risk of fleeing.

The Covid pandemic has partially shed light on the conditions in US detention centers. At the moment of writing, several national and local organizations are fighting to get people out on parole due to their medical vulnerability from Covid. While OMDC has greatly reduced its detained population, roughly five hundred people are still detained, and new people keep coming in. The center is operating in quarantine, and movement inside is limited, but the virus keeps spreading.

Moreover, the struggle of detainees has reached new proportions. As Covid 19 started spreading in detention centers across the US, hundreds of detained migrants across California declared a hunger strike. Reports from the inside describe beatings, use of pepper spray, and long periods of solitary confinement, not only for the strikers but for everybody who engage in any type of protest.

On April 10, the Core Civic staff at OMDC refused to give facial masks to detainees unless they signed first a waiver that would free the company from any medical responsibility. Women detained in the female pod refused to sign and were brutally attacked by the staff. During the attack a woman was on the phone with her lawyer, and recording of the call was made available online. As it was later clarified, the women refused to sign the waiver and proceeded to tear down their uniforms in order to make masks out of them. The guards reacted by using pepper spray inside the cells and sending several of the women (particularly those who were perceived to be the leaders) in solitary confinement. An independent investigation on this incident is underway.

Meanwhile, activist organizations and Freedom For Immigrants keep receiving information from people inside the center. As the pandemic progresses, the voices of detainees paint a disturbing reality of people rapidly falling sick, and staff becoming more and more abusive in an effort to break detainees’ attempts to protest against their conditions. Far from being exclusive to OMDC, this reality is common to most detention centers across the US.

Sours: https://borderlandscapes.law.ox.ac.uk/location/otay-mesa-detention-center

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