An immigrant who’d been detained at a California jail for more than three years is now free, organizers announced on Wednesday. Ricardo Vasquez Cruz’s release from Yuba County Jail is a major victory not only because of the inhumane length of his detention, but also because he'd been the very last individual detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the facility. Vasquez Cruz has now been reunited with his family, advocates said.
“The news comes at the heels of a letter led by Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren and Congressman Lou Correa, along with 22 members of Congress, to Department of Homeland Security (‘DHS’) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, urging the closure of two private detention centers in California and the contract termination with Yuba County Jail where Ricardo was detained,” California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice said.
Legislators and dozens of local organizations said in the recent letter to the Biden administration that Yuba, Otay Mesa Detention Facility, and Adelanto Detention Facility have under multiple presidential administrations “been operating in a substandard manner, resulting in repeated violations of the ICE standards and the excessive waste of federal funds.” Yuba has been ICE’s lone remaining county jail in California; Otay Mesa and Adelanto are operated by private prison profiteers CoreCivic and GEO Group, respectively.
“The ‘Free the Yuba 11 Campaign Coalition’ along with Ricardo’s family and his attorney, San Francisco Deputy Public Defender Jennifer Friedman, spearheaded Ricardo’s release campaign which involved community rallies, vigils, and congressional pressure,” advocates said. “Ricardo also led hunger strikes at the jail to improve the inhumane conditions immigrants were subjected to.” The statement questioned whether his release signals a possible end to Yuba’s contract. It should—along with an end to immigration detention at Otay Mesa and Adelanto.”
“Otay Mesa has also been publicly condemned for poor conditions and mistreatment of detainees,” legislators had written, noting a recent Department of Homeland Security (DHS) inspector general report confirming the facility at one point during the novel coronavirus pandemic tried to force immigrants into signing a liability form protecting the site if they wanted a protective face mask. Legislators said Adelanto, meanwhile, was cited by a court for “serious overcrowding, with up to 118 women sharing three showers, beds placed inches apart, and filthy conditions that placed individual detained in the facility at serious risk of contracting COVID-19.”
Organizations noted that in Yuba’s case, it’s “been operating under a court-ordered consent decree since 1979 due to numerous constitutional violations and lack of adequate care.” The time for ICE’s agreement with Yuba to be terminated was yesterday.
“We are thrilled to know Ricardo is back in his community and will finally be able to get the urgent medical attention that he was denied for more than 3 years inside Yuba County Jail,” the FreeTheYuba11 campaign said in the statement. Organizers said the campaign “is one of many site-fights across the country demanding the shutdown of all immigrant detention centers. This campaign has shown the impact the community-legal partnership can have to demonstrate community-based care is the alternate vision to incarceration. The campaign uplifted the humanity of each individual, showed us our need for each other, and a world without cages where we can all heal.”
Organizers said that a planned vigil for this weekend demanding Vasquez Cruz’s release will now be a celebratory event. Advocates said they will also mark the lives of those who’ve died while in immigration detention. “I’m content to be with my family,” Vasquez Cruz said in the statement. “I never stopped fighting to stop my deportation, get released, and stay here with my family. I don’t have the words to express how I feel, how it feels to be with my family again. Thank you to everyone who worked to support me and helped fight for my liberty.”