Welcome back to the Perilous Podcast, a news and oral history project featuring original interviews with prisoners and detainees who have participated in or witnessed protests, uprisings and other forms of unrest behind bars. We also gather analysis and insight from researchers and advocates in an effort to build a better understanding of systems of incarceration and collective action and strategy.
This week, we cover the hunger strike that occurred in early June at the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center. The hunger strike, which began on June 4 and lasted about 5 days, involved at least 70 detainees, although the exact number is unknown. The strikers released a statement expressing solidarity with the Black Lives Matter Movement. They wrote,
We, the detained people of dormitories A, B, and C at Mesa Verde ICE Detention Facility, are protesting and on hunger strike in solidarity with the detained people at Otay Mesa Detention Center. We begin our protest in memory of our comrades George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Oscar Grant, and Tony McDade. Almost all of us have also suffered through our country’s corrupt and racist criminal justice system before being pushed into the hands of ICE.
Mr. Asif Qazi, a detainee at Mesa Verde, went on to explain what he and his fellow strikers were attempting to do:
We support their cause for protesting against a corrupt justice system and corrupt law officials. We’re trying to intertwine our causes in one general fight for justice, and we believe ICE falls in the category of corrupt justice officials.
The detainees later released a video statement, further expressing their solidarity with the uprising against the murder of George Floyd and linking their efforts to the one in streets.
In order to better understand what happened at Mesa Verde, we interviewed Jack Herrera about his coverage of the strike. Jack Herrera is an independent journalist focusing on immigration, refugee issues, and human rights. His work has appeared in The Nation, Politico Magazine, Columbia Journalism Review, Popular Science, TruthOut, Pacific Standard and more. He is currently based in San Francisco and frequently travels to Mexico. His article about the hunger strike at Mesa Verde was published in PRISM. In addition to agreeing to do an interview with us, Mr. Herrera also shared with us audio from his interview with Mr. Qazi, which we’ll play for you throughout the show. Special thanks to Mr. Herrera for his help in telling this story.
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Interview with Jack Herrera:
- Jack Herrera personal website
- Jack Herrera on Twitter: @jherrerx
- Email: jackherrerx ‘at’ gmail.com
- Secure email: jackherrera1 ‘at’ protonmail.com
- Centro Legal de La Raza is a legal services agency protecting and advancing the rights of low-income, immigrant, Black, and Latinx communities through bilingual legal representation, education, and advocacy.
- Lisa Knox is an immigration attorney who oversees the Legal’s Detention Project for Centro Legal de La Raza, which provides legal services to immigrants who are fighting deportation while held in detention centers.
- “Salvadoran man in ICE custody passes away in San Diego” ICE Press Release, May 6, 2020
- “ICE Guidance on COVID-19” ICE Website.
- “Over 100 Detainees at Mesa Verde ICE Facility Stage Hunger Strike Over COVID-19,” Perilous Chronicle, April 17, 2020.
- ICE press release with allegations of coercion.
- “A State-by-State Look at Coronavirus in Prisons,” The Marshall Project, May 25, 2020.
The Death of Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia of COVID-19 in ICE Custody:
- “ICE Detainee Who Died of Covid-19 Suffered Horrifying Neglect,” Ryan Devereaux, The Intercept, May 18, 2020.
- ICE Press Release: Salvadoran Man in ICE Custody Passes Away in San Diego, May 7, 2020.
- “First ICE detainee dies from COVID-19 after being hospitalized from Otay Mesa Detention Center,” The San Diego Union-Tribune, May 6, 2020.
Death of Choung Won Ahn in ICE custody:
- ICE Press Release: South Korean Man in ICE Custody Passes Away in California, May 19, 2020
- ACLU Southern California: Immigrant, 74, Dies by Suicide in Mesa Verde Detention Facility, May 18, 2020
Death of Oscar Lopez Acosta of COVID-19 in ICE custody:
- “Ohio’s First ICE Detainee Dies from COVID-19,” Columbus Free Press, May 13, 2020.
Thanks to the American Immigration Lawyers Association for their tracking efforts.
Recent Articles by Jack Herrera:
- “Immigrants stage a hunger strike for Black lives inside ICE detention facility”, PRISM, June 12, 2020.
- “Latinxs Don’t Need to Speak Spanish,” The Nation, June 18, 2020.
- “The Pandemic-Era Rebrand of Family Separation,” The New Republic, June 15, 2020.
- “DNA tests can’t tell you your race,” Popular Science, December 27, 2019
- “‘Like Petri Dishes for the Virus’: ICE Detention Centers Threaten the Rural South,” Politico, May 5, 2020.
- “The Other Epidemic: Public health insights are reshaping our understanding of how violence spreads,” The Nation, May 18, 2020.
- “How Sex Workers Are Using Mutual Aid to Respond to the Coronavirus,” The Nation, April 20, 2020.