SAN DIEGO (Border Report) — Advocacy groups are claiming detainees at the Otay Mesa Detention Center are not being allowed to call them because administrators have blocked certain outbound phone numbers.
Both the Otay Mesa Detention Resistance and Pueblo Sin Fronteras say CoreCivic, the private company that runs the facility, has blocked their numbers making it impossible for anyone from inside the facility to reach them.
The groups claim this is a human rights violation and an infringement on detainees’ rights as protected under the U.S. Constitution.
The Otay Mesa Detention Center has had the largest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases of any ICE detention center in the United States with 164. As of Friday, only four detainees were under isolation or monitoring.
Lawsuits have been filed to gain the release of detainees at the facility to protect them from getting the virus.
The American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, is one group that has won the release of dozens of detainees over the age of 45 and some with pre-existing medical conditions.
The ACLU is now asking the detention center’s administration and ICE to stop the practice of blocking advocacy group phone numbers. “We ask that ICE and CoreCivic immediately unblock the telephone numbers associated with OMDR and PSF. Failure to do so may result in litigation to enforce the First Amendment,” ACLU said in a news release.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement has admitted blocking one phone number. It issued the following reasons for doing so:
“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). 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.”
In regards to the ACLU’s letter, ICE says it has received it and is currently reviewing it.
As for CoreCivic, operator of the Otay Mesa Detention Center, it sent the following statement:
“We took this action at the direction of our government partner,” wrote CoreCivic spokesman Ryan Gustin.