South Texas ICE Processing Center, Pearsall, Texas
March 23, 2020

Approximately 60 immigrant detainees refused to return to their cell block Monday in protest of a lack of response on the part of the facility to the threat of COVID-19. In response to the protest, guards sprayed the protesters with OC Spray. The event was referred to as a “riot” by journalists and advocates, but the specifics of the incident are still unclear.

“Sunday night I heard from an inmate saying there’s been rioting inside,” said Crystal Vargas, an immigration attorney in San Antonio who spoke with San Antonio Express-News. “The detainees were upset because they’ve seen new people coming in without being screened for the virus. … They feel that they’re not being cared for.”

“The detainees told facility staff they would continue their protest until they were released from custody; however, those actions compromised security protocols at the facility,” said Adelina Pruneda, an agency spokesperson who was interviewed by BuzzFeed News. “After detainees refused to comply with numerous commands given by contract staff, the contract staff initiated an immediate ‘use of force’ by disbursing oleoresin capsicum, commonly referred to as OC Spray.”

The South Texas ICE Processing Center is a privately-run facility operated by Geo Group under contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

In the aftermath, ICE singled out and moved nine detainees who they claim instigated the protests to a restricted housing area and said they would be punished with “disciplinary charges due to security violations.”

Andrés Perez, an immigration lawyer based in San Antonio, also said “These are people sitting, trapped, at the government’s expense without access to proper medical care, so they’re freaking out. Pepper spray is uncalled for…Imagine how scary this is for them.”

The riot comes in the midst of a wave of protest in US jails, prisons and detention facilities as prisoners, afraid of being infected by COVID-10 in the close quarters of the jail environment, demand their immediate release.

 

Citations:

“Detained migrants pepper-sprayed for protesting amid coronavirus fears”, San Antonio Express-News, March 24, 2020.

Immigrants Afraid Of The Coronavirus Outbreak Are Protesting Inside ICE Facilities“, Buzzfeed News, March 26, 2020.

Article Published: 3/28/2020

Header Photo Source: AP Photo/Eric Gay, File via San Antonio Express-News