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Activists claim unjust ICE censorship after Otay Mesa detainees’ calls get blocked

US sees 1st detained immigrant death from coronavirus
Posted at 3:28 PM, Jun 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-16 22:38:42-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Detainees inside the Otay Mesa Detention Center can reportedly no longer make phone calls to certain immigrants' rights activists.

“Quite frankly, I'm outraged that a U.S. federal agency (ICE) would cut off communication,” said Alex Mensing with Pueblo Sin Fronteras. Mensing told ABC10 News on Tuesday that his number was blocked along with numbers to another immigrants’ rights activist group, Otay Mesa Detention Resistance.

“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,” he added.

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

In May, Salvadoran Carlos Escobar-Mejia became the first detainee in U.S. custody to die after testing positive for the virus. His funeral was held last week.

ICE contractor CoreCivic operates the facility.

When asked Tuesday about blocking calls, CoreCivic replied, “We took this action at the direction of our government partner. We encourage you to reach out to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for more information on their rationale for this decision.”

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for ICE sent ABC10 News the following statement:
“Due to safety concerns for all detainees in custody, ICE has temporarily blocked detainee calls at Otay Mesa Detention Center 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 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 ERO management will continue to monitor the situation. Temporary blocked phone calls may be restored when deemed safe to do so.”