Attorney ‘can’t say for certain’ if ICE retaliated against detainees, but it sure damn looks like it

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The ACLU (ACLU) Foundation of Northern California and several legal partners had late last month filed a complaint on behalf of eight people who had been detained at California facilities—including Golden State Annex and Mesa Verde—saying that officials violently retaliated against them after peacefully protesting dangerous conditions amid the pandemic, even “confiscating prescription medication and walking canes.” Roughly two weeks after that complaint went public, many of those immigrants were apparently singled out for transfer. 

“[T]he fact that those folks were targeted for transfers, I think, speaks volumes,” Beaty told The Fresno Bee reported. “There isn’t a way to prove that, but it’s hard to look at the facts and who they targeted and not conclude that this is retaliation for the complaint.”

As previously noted here at Daily Kos, court filings and internal government records obtained as part of a recent report, in fact, prove federal immigration officials have “long engaged in a pattern” of surveillance and “outright retaliation” against critics. Government watchdogs have also confirmed ICE has retaliated with violent force against detained immigrants, finding officers used pepper spray against a peaceful protest over lack of PPE. In one surveillance photo from that report, a dozen officers in riot gear surround a group of men crouching for cover on the floor. One officer is seen deploying a chemical stream straight into the group.

“Beaty also criticized ICE’s decision to transfer detainees between two potential virus hotspots as COVID-19 cases continue to surge in the Central Valley,” The Fresno Bee continued. In late August, a federal court actually had to order the agency to do the bare minimum and test immigrants for COVID-19 before transferring them to a detention facility in Washington state. “We are grateful for the court’s order, but it’s mind-boggling that it took court action to make ICE take even the most basic measures,” ACLU National Prison Project Staff Attorney Eunice Cho said.

That facility, Tacoma’s Northwest Detention Center, has experienced a COVID-19 outbreak due to these transfers. Mesa Verde has been no better off. “From the start of the public health crisis until now, the conduct of the key ICE and GEO officials in charge of operations at Mesa Verde has been appalling,” a federal judge slammed last December. Internal emails obtained through the lawsuit revealed that the facility rejected a plan to test all detained people basically because it would be too hard.

“ICE was holding just 21 people at the 400-bed Mesa Verde facility before it transferred the Golden State detainees to Bakersfield, according to Beaty,” The Fresno Bee said, reporting that the facility was operating at lower capacity following that judge’s order.

We’re still in the midst of a pandemic, and the humane and appropriate thing for ICE to do would be to release detained immigrants, which it has every ability to do today. Instead, it heightened public health risks by transferring immigrants from one inhumane facility to another inhumane facility, including the very people who were on the record criticizing its unsafe and inhumane actions. It’s not at all lost on the very people who were singled out. Francisco Martinez Gutierrez, among those transferred in the middle of the night by ICE, said, “I feel like certain individuals were targeted due to them knowing their rights and exercising their rights,” the report continued.

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