An immigrant detention center in San Diego turned down advocates Friday who were trying to donate about 1,000 masks for detainees during the coronavirus pandemic. California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez told the Los Angeles Times she was turned away when she showed up at the Otay Mesa Detention Center with immigrant rights organizations to help detainees whose safety has otherwise been ignored. The facility has the highest number of immigrant detainees with the coronavirus in the country, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported. “It’s rare that I feel so powerless to change something in my community and my district,” Gonzalez told the Times.
San Diego County reported 2,043 residents with the virus and 111 resulting deaths Tuesday. At least 111 detainees had tested positive for the virus at Otay Mesa by Friday evening, according to documents The San Diego Union-Tribune obtained. Of those with the virus, 67 of them weren’t being held criminally. “These are human beings,” Gonzalez said. “We don’t have mass deaths, but we know where this is going.”
Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman with the CoreCivic business that runs the facility, told the Los Angeles Times that "all detainees" have "appropriate personal protective equipment" at this time. “We are also currently reviewing the appropriate procedures to ensure any donated equipment provides the appropriate level of protection and adds to the safety, health and well-being of those in ICE custody,” Mack said.
Both detainees and advocates speaking on their behalf told the newspaper that when they complained of a lack of masks, they were offered masks with contracts to sign, and many refused. Detainees were later provided surgical masks that they were left to wear for weeks, they said. “New masks have been handed out,” CoreCivic spokeswoman Amanda Gilchrist told the Times.
Detainees also said they haven’t been given enough soap or space to maintain the recommended 6 feet of space to socially distance. Mindy Pressman, of Otay Mesa Detention Resistance, pointed out that if authorities were properly protecting detainees, the facility wouldn’t have so many COVID-19 cases. “This is ICE and CoreCivic’s responsibility, and they are failing,” she told the Los Angeles Times.