ACLU to ICE: Get Coronavirus act together

At the Otay Mesa Detention Center near San Diego, several hundred detainees of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are held awaiting immigration hearings to decide the fate of their asylum claims./File

Today, Wednesday, March 11, the ACLU Foundation of California sent letters to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) immigration detention center officials urging them to develop a comprehensive emergency plan for the prevention and management of potential Coronavirus (or COVID-19) cases at its detention centers.

In the letters, the ACLU asks for written responses from ICE and other detention center officials that explain how they plan to protect the health and wellbeing of people in their custody and people who work at the centers. The ACLU underscored in its letters that not having an effective plan, developed and implemented in coordination with state and local public health institutions, “may cost lives.”

In related news, increasing precautions taken with coronavirus / COVID-19 have caused many San Diego institutions to postpone or cancel events altogether. More on that at the end of the story, below…

The ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties (ACLUF-SDIC) sent letters to the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego County and the Imperial Regional Detention Facility in Imperial County (Calexico). The ACLU Foundation of Southern California sent letters the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in San Bernardino County and the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Facility in Kern County. The ACLU Foundation of Northern California sent a letter to the Yuba County Jail.

“ICE detention facilities in San Diego and Imperial counties must act quickly to put in place a comprehensive emergency plan that protects people in their custody from COVID-19,” said Monika Langarica, immigrants’ rights staff attorney for the ACLUF-SDIC. “The spread of the virus into a detention center would have devastating consequences for the people locked up inside.”

People confined in detention centers are highly vulnerable to contagious illnesses because they live in close quarters and because medical care in these facilities has been documented to be severely inadequate, according to the ACLU letters.

According to a story published last year by the Voice of San Diego, people held at the Otay Mesa Detention Center filed complaints that “serious medical conditions were being ignored or treated insufficiently.”

The ACLU letters cite several recommendations for reducing the threat of COVID-19, including reducing the population at the centers through release on bond or parole. ICE should also exercise discretion to halt or reduce the number of people who are newly arrested and detained.

The letters stress the need for humane, adequately equipped facilities to house people who get sick.

“ICE should proactively decrease the number of people it places at risk by releasing eligible people who are already in its prisons and reducing the number of people it chooses to detain,” Langarica said.

The Otay Mesa detention facility in San Diego is privately run by the Corrections Corporation of America to house immigrant detainees on behalf of the U.S. government./ BBC.Flickr

The letters addressed to officials at the Otay Mesa Detention Center and the Imperial Regional Detention Facility cite other matters that should be addressed in an effective plan, including:

  • Education of people in custody and staff on how to minimize the risk of contracting and spreading the virus;
  • Provisions inside the facilities for people in custody and staff to practice proper hygiene, including thorough hand washing, as prescribed by federal health officials;
  • Staffing plans for how the facilities can continue to operate if large numbers of staff are out sick;
  • Immediate testing of people in custody and staff who show any symptoms of infection; and
  • Implementation of additional precautions for anyone at high risk if infected, including pregnant people and people with chronic illnesses or compromised immune systems.

The ACLUF-SDIC’s letters to the Otay Mesa Detention Center and Imperial Regional Detention Facility request written responses from detention center officials by March 25, 2020.

Read a copy of this press release and the letters to officials here:

Here is a list of what events and institutions are accommodating for virus prevention:

San Diego Universities and Colleges

San Diego State University is moving most courses online by the time students return from spring break on April 6. Professors can apply to keep their labs in-person, but many other events by the university have either been canceled or postponed.

RELATED: San Diego State University moving to virtual instruction as coronavirus concerns grow

Explore SDSU, the annual university open house set for March 21, has been canceled with no date for a postponement. The university page for the event says it is working on “virtual programming” to hold similar events.

UC San Diego will be teaching all courses online to prevent the spread of COVID-19 starting in spring quarter. There are no confirmed cases of coronavirus on campus, but the school calls it “steps that will help protect the community.” The online shift will come on March 25.

The San Diego Community College District is making the jump to online teaching, with a target date of moving online by March 16 going into the month of June. The district contains San Diego City College, Mesa College, Miramar College and various Continuing Education campuses.

RELATED: Coronavirus: UC San Diego will move to online teaching

Southwestern College in Chula Vista announced they will hold online classes from March 16-20, with in-person classes resuming after spring break.

Conventions, Expos and Events

The Parking Industry Expo, which was also supposed to happen at the San Diego Convention Center, is now canceled. It was supposed to be from March 22-25 and host 1,200 people.

The Experimental Biology Convention was set to be hosted at the San Diego Convention Center from April 4-7, but has since been canceled.

The American Association for Cancer Research terminated its 23,000-attendee, annual meeting at the downtown convention center. The event was supposed to happen from April 24 -29, but is now planned for another, unspecified date.

RELATED: Coronavirus: Association for Cancer Research cancels annual meeting in San Diego

Alzheimer’s San Diego has canceled all classes and group programs until further notice, effective immediately (March 11, 2020). Anyone needing support can call their office to speak with a dementia care consultant at 858.492.4400, live chat by visiting, and/or email

The Kyoto Prize Symposium at UC San Diego “has been postponed to a later date,” according to a UCSD Twitter post. The event was planned for March 18-19. The symposium includes international leaders in advanced technology, astrophysical sciences and theater.

The San Diego Festival of Science and Engineering at Miramar College scheduled for Saturday (March 14, 2020) has also been canceled.

Performances and Live Events

Though not in San Diego, many locals were sad to learn popular music festivals Coachella and Stagecoach have been postponedorganizers announced Tuesday, March 10. Both will now take place in October.

With UCSD tightening up on most public events, a live recording of a Voice of San Diego podcast, which was going to be recorded at the Robinson Auditorium on March 11, has been canceled.

The 25-member Brooklyn Youth Chorus canceled their performance of “Aging Musician,” set to perform at the San Diego Opera this Friday and Saturday. Ticket holders will be able to put their purchase toward another San Diego Opera event, or a tax-deductible donation.

Pearl Jam postponed the North American leg of its Gigaton tour which included a San Diego date on April 13. The band said the dates will be rescheduled.

RELATED: Amid coronavirus concerns, Padres Opening Day a go… for now

RELATED: Coronavirus: Coachella and Stagecoach postponed until October

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