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ACLU demands answers from ICE after Otay Mesa detainees' calls get blocked

US sees 1st detained immigrant death from coronavirus
Posted at 4:39 PM, Jun 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-18 11:05:57-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - The local ACLU is now firing back at ICE officials after news broke Tuesday of a new measure in place of blocking certain calls from detainees’ being housed at the Otay Mesa Detention Center.

“For the government to interfere with the people's ability to make those calls and advocates abilities to receive those calls is deeply troubling,” said ACLU senior staff attorney Mitra Ebadolahi. She’s now sent a letter to both ICE and ICE’s contractor, CoreCivic, demanding answers and writing in part, "…legally, these blockages may violate the constitution."

On Tuesday, Alex Mensing with Pueblo Sin Fronteras said his number was blocked along with numbers to another immigrants rights' activist group, Otay Mesa Detention Resistance. Mensing told ABC 10 News, “Last time I checked, in the United States we're not supposed to censor people's ability to denounce abuses, to denounce medical negligence, to denounce physical assault by guards…by private prison guards or ICE officers against the people.”

The Otay Mesa Detention Center has come under fire for allegations of poor health conditions and abuses inside as hundreds of people being housed there were testing positive for COVID-19.

“Without more information, it does appear that his kind of blockage is either retaliatory or at least viewpoint discriminatory,” added Ebadolahi.

The ACLU is demanding that ICE remove the blockage and offer a response by next Tuesday.

CoreCivic referred ABC10 News to ICE which sent a statement Wednesday reiterating part of a statement from Tuesday which reported that it temporarily blocked detainee calls to a specific San Diego area phone number after calls resulted in disruptive behavior from detainees. The full statement from Wednesday is below.

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has temporarily blocked detainee calls at Otay Mesa Detention Center (OMDC) to a specific San Diego area phone number after detainee calls to this number resulted in detainees exhibiting highly disruptive behavior, threatening the health and security of other detainees and employees at the facility."

"ICE fully respects the rights of those in our custody to peacefully express their opinion without interference. This action was taken out of concern for the safety of those in our custody. ICE takes very seriously the safety and well-being of those in our care and will take all necessary steps in order to ensure the continued safety of both detainees and staff. San Diego ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) management will continue to monitor the situation. Temporary blocked phone calls may be restored when deemed safe to do so."

"All ICE facilities provide detainees with reasonable and equitable access to telephones. Detainees are further allowed to make free calls to an ICE-approved list of free legal service providers for the purpose of obtaining initial legal representation."

"ICE remains fully committed to ensuring that those in our custody reside in a safe, secure environment, and that our staff and facility adhere strictly to the National Detention Standards (NDS) [ice.gov]. These standards protect communities, staff, contractors, volunteers, and detainees from harm by ensuring facility security is maintained and that situations that could pose a risk of harm are mitigated. OMDC maintains and routinely evaluates comprehensive security and safety guidelines to ensure facility security and control.”