BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Almost two years after a lawsuit was filed, a California court has sided with immigrant detainees who are fighting for better conditions at two Immigration and Customs Enforcement Detention centers including the one here in Bakersfield.
The settlement agreement provides three years of health and safety protections for those remaining in custody.
It also forces ICE and the private contractor who runs the detention centers, GEO group, to keep measures in place to protect detainees from contracting COVID-19 at Mesa Verde Detention Center and Yuba County Jail.
“These include measures designed to ensure access to vaccination and boosters, certain intake protocols from when people are being added to the facility, social distancing measures, and sanitation and hygiene measures,” said Sean Riordan.
These safety measures are in place after immigrants detained at the Mesa Verde Detention Center in Bakersfield and the Yuba County Jail, filed a lawsuit in 2020.
They filed it against ICE alleging the conditions of these facilities violated their constitutional rights by exposing them to COVID-19.
“The situation at Mesa Verde was exceptionally dangerous. People were packed into completely full dorms and if COVID had gotten into those dorms it would have run wild.”
ACLU Attorney Sean Riordan said now, in addition to increased sanitation and hygiene measures, population limits also allow for social distancing.
“Immigration Customs Enforcement has released a number of people on its own in order to address the unsafe conditions in its facility."
According to the ACLU, under the judge’s orders, more than 250 detainees have been released. Many had longstanding ties to the U.S.
“Many people had been here for decades since they were small children. So, they went back to their families and homes that they had lived in for years before being arrested by ICE in the first place.”
Some are protected against re-detention.
“That basically means that if somebody's been released and they're living and working in their community just as they want to be, they are not going to be picked up by ICE again without justification. Now if somebody that has been released were to commit a new crime and ICE believed that showed that they were unsafe, then ICE can try to re-detain that person. But they would have to be able to objectively show that the person is dangerous.”
The ACLU says the populations at both Mesa Verde Detention Center and Yuba County Jail have dropped from 462 to 62.
Under the settlement, monitoring systems will also be put in place to ensure facilities are following all health and safety protections under the lawsuit.
“If the measures are not being followed, then there is a way for us to try to seek enforcement of the settlement agreement. Including ultimately by going back to the federal court if necessary and asking the federal court to ensure that it is being implemented properly.”
The settlement will now seek final approval, Riordan said he hopes the settlement will go into full effect by late spring.