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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 7/7/20

"They Don't Care About Our Health": Hunger Striker at Otay Mesa ICE Jail Speaks Out as COVID Spreads

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A s COVID-19 infections continue to rise behind bars, we go inside the Otay Mesa Detention Center in California to speak with Anthony Alexandre, a longtime U.S. resident of Haitian descent, who describes conditions at the for-profit jail, run by private prison company CoreCivic, which has seen a mass outbreak of COVID-19, leading to at least 167 infections and one death. "Basically, CoreCivic is telling us they do not care about our health," says Alexandre. "They do not care about anything else but their bottom line."


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I'm Amy Goodman, with Juan Gonzalez. The number of people jailed by ICE -- that's Immigration and Customs Enforcement -- who have tested positive for the coronavirus continues to rise, with more than 2,700 cases reported. Among the hardest hit by the pandemic is the Otay Mesa Detention Center in California, where a mass outbreak of COVID-19 has infected at least 167 people and led to the death of 57-year-old Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia last month. Immigrants detained there report dire conditions, lack of medical care, and the repeated use of pepper spray as retaliation.

Last week, we reached immigrant and activist Anthony Alexandre, who's detained there. He spoke to us by phone. He's a longtime resident of the United States, originally from Haiti. He has led two hunger strikes inside. I began by asking Anthony Alexandre to describe the conditions he and others are facing.

ANTHONY ALEXANDRE: Well, we are still in a unmitigated disaster, that it's the condition is still dire. The amount of detainees that's been affected with the positive here in Otay Mesa is around 250 detainees. And they still haven't done anything to mitigate the situation. The lack of healthcare is still we have between three to nine medical staff on any time on the premises.

And we decided to hunger strike, because we were asking for basic dignity. And as a retaliation, they pepper-sprayed us. This was really hard for us. It was really hard to breathe. It was about 20 minutes, when they came in and asked us that they're going to put us in a unit that had 15 -- 15 detainees that had tested positive. We didn't want to leave, because our bodies were so feeble because we were on a hunger strike. And they decided to come in and pepper-spray us. There was like people on the floor. It was like 20 minutes, 20 minutes of pain. Just like you could see Floyd is struggling for air, that's how we were at this point.

And they came in, dragged us out of our cell and put us to another unit to go to a pod where Carlos Escobar was. So they took 15 detainees that was on M pod to put them on L pod, that they just finished pepper-spraying. It was unbelievable. That's what made the situation so pernicious, because they took Carlos at that time. We saw him gasping for air when they were putting him on L pod, which was the pod that we just left, they just finished pepper-spraying. They waited three days. After watching Carlos Escobar struggling for air, they waited for three days to take him to outside medical. I could not believe that. That was something that is very negligent.

And they decided after that to take us to a medical unit that had three other detainees that tested positive, where we're sharing phone. They're not properly cleaning it. The cell where we were was dirty, filthy, dirty with bloodstain on walls, spit on the floor. I had to clean the cell myself, when I was so weak. It was unbelievable, unbearable in this facility.

JUAN GONZÃ LEZ: And, Anthony, I wanted to ask you back in April, the prisoners were told to sign contracts that were written only in English, in exchange for receiving face masks. And I would assume that the vast majority of the detainees there are of Mexican or Central American origin. Many of them don't speak English. What was your -- and then they were pepper-sprayed when some refused?

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Democracy Now!  is a national, daily, independent, award-winning news program hosted by journalists Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez. Pioneering the largest public media collaboration in the U.S., Democracy Now! is broadcast on (more...)
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