A letter to Governor Newsom: Adverse and horrific impacts COVID-19 will have on California ICE detention facilities

Dear Governor Newsom,

I am writing on behalf of the National Council of Jewish Women, Sacramento, to urge that you act promptly and effectively to safeguard the health and lives of individuals in who are detained or employed in the County Jails. I and our members, who reside in Northern California, are extremely concerned about the adverse and horrific impacts COVID-19 will have on people detained by ICE at the Yuba County Jail, and other similar institutions, as well as jail personnel and the broader community.

By now, it must be readily apparent that COVID-19 poses a serious health hazard for the people in detention and the workers employed at jails. Two Riverside County Sheriff’s Deputies died after contracting the virus from a jail inmate, leaving behind their wives and seven children. The outbreaks in prisons are further indication of the high risk of infection and death to detainees. On April 19th, California corrections officials announced the first prison inmate deaths from complications related to the corona virus. An inmate died Sunday at a hospital after contracting COVID-19 at the California Institution for Men in San Bernardino Count. In addition, an inmate from the U.S. Penitentiary at Lompoc died Saturday of corona virus related complications. He was the 22nd federal prisoner to die a COVID-19-related death and first at Lompoc, where an outbreak has infected 54 inmates. Another inmate who was released April 1 died five days later after testing positive for the virus. A total of 115 inmates and 89 corrections employees in California have tested positive for the corona virus.

And, as I am sure you must be aware, Judge Maxine Chesney of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California recently ruled that it was uncontested that people held by ICE at the Yuba County Jail cannot practice social distancing, and ordered two detainees with underlying conditions released. For those detainees who are medically vulnerable, continued incarceration could be found to be cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution because of the risk it poses for infection and death.
At the Yuba County jail, the institution with which we are most familiar, there are approximately 150 people currently detained by ICE, and an unknown number of jail personnel who interact with them. It is only a matter of time before a potentially devastating COVID-19 outbreak could occur at this and other County Jails. ICE detention centers across the country have had serious outbreaks of infectious diseases, including mumps, influenza, and varicella, which is also called chicken pox. Right now, there is a terrifying COVID-19 outbreak in the Otay Mesa ICE Detention Center in San Diego, where there are at least 20 cases. A COVID-19 outbreak in a jail would have a huge impact on the county as well as neighboring counties because of the risk that it will spread to employees and residents in the entire area.

Given ICE’s consistent pattern of medical neglect, we call on you to end the continued detention of immigrants for profit, and immediately require the release all people detained by ICE in order to ensure their safety and the safety of all other people in the county Jails, including jail staff, public workers, and the Sheriffs and Corrections Officers. Every day that people remain detained in ICE Detention Facilities increases the risk to their health and lives and to the health of our entire community. Please act now, to forestall an exacerbation of this humanitarian crisis and save lives before it is too late.


Patricia Sturdevant,
National Council of Jewish Women, Sacramento

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