Migrant detention centers: Caged for up to 24 hours a day


Following is the personal testimony of an immigrant who suffered first hand the brutal experience of being imprisoned for several months in a California immigrant detention center. We have previously reported on the valiant struggles of immigrants detained in the Mesa Verde (MSV) and Golden State Annex (GSA) detention centers in Bakersfield and McFarland, Calif.

As described by Jose Hernandez, the author of the following story, the conditions to which thousands of immigrants are subjected in ICE detention centers under the operation of the GEO Group, a private prison company, remind us of the most extreme abuses of human rights by the capitalist state. These punishments are practiced against people, children, and families whose only reason for being incarcerated has been crossing the border in search of a better future.

However, as Karl Marx put it nearly 200 years ago, the liberation of the exploited and oppressed is the work of the exploited themselves. Thus, about 80 immigrant workers detained in these prisons have organized escalating protest actions, from labor strikes to hunger strikes, to bring to light the abuses they have been subjected to. Today, the flame of struggle is kept burning by the courageous actions of those who champion the struggle of the most exploited and oppressed sector of the American proletariat. Winning this struggle will require workers to forge a path of unity and solidarity to establish a workers’ government, to win socialism and true democracy. — The editors


A detention center contains multiple dormitories and hoyos (“the hole”) which are solitary confinement cells for detainees who raise their voices against the mistreatment committed by ICE and GEO employees.

With no regard for the risks or the safety of a human being’s wellbeing, they lock upwards of a hundred people in a single dormitory smaller than a McDonald’s restaurant.

Having to live in a dormitory with barely two narrow bathrooms, full of mold, cockroaches, dirty water, breathing dirty dust from an inadequate ventilation system—having to eat small portions of expired food, served in dirty dishes in which sometimes there are insects and stones—is completely inhuman treatment.

It is sad that these corporations enrich themselves at the expense of the suffering of immigrants. By the logic of capitalism, their profits are more important than the welfare of the human being in their charge. The corporations provide mattresses, blankets, sheets, clothes, and shoes in very bad conditions—torn, permanently stained, and filthy.

The high cost of the miserable and expired food that is sold at the concessionary, and the high cost of phone calls ($6.30 for 30 minutes), are part of their inhumane scheme.

To add even more, these corporations exploit us by paying us $1 per day for the work their prison guards would be paid $45 per hour to do.

We suffer from medical negligence: We have to wait from four months to a year to be treated by a specialist, and when you go to the appointment, you are chained—worse than a dog—by the feet, waist, and hands, having to walk in public under these torturous and humiliating conditions.

On a daily basis, a detainee is subject to being searched 8-10 times a day in order to be able to do their daily routines such as eating, going to the doctor, going to religious services, going to the yard. In that process we are victims of sexual harassment because of the way the officers touch our bodies as they search us.

For all of these many reasons, we participated in the labor and hunger strikes. Unfortunately, for raising our voices in the dormitories against the process of the above actions, we were violently dragged, thrown to the ground, beaten, and transferred to El Paso, Texas, by ICE and GEO officers. The reason we were transferred to Texas was to force us to eat. Texas is one of the many states where ICE and GEO practice forced-feeding, which consists of hosing the detainee through the nose and into the stomach to pump liquid food. This practice not only disrespects our bodily autonomy, but it is actively dangerous and can result in death without proper medical supervision, which GEO Group obviously cannot be trusted to provide. As a direct punishment for strike activities, it is violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution, which is the right to free speech without government interference. By force-feeding us and subjecting us to solitary confinement, ICE and GEO violate our right to free expression.

The only criminals in ICE and the GEO Group’s detention centers are the camp guards themselves, as well as their bosses, who care nothing for the humanity of the people they detain. For our people to be safe, we need to shut down these detention centers.

Photo: Skyward Kick Productions / Shutterstock

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