More than 70 detainees condemn conditions at San Diego immigration facility

The main entrance to Otay Mesa Detention Center in south San Diego.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

More than 70 people being held at the Otay Mesa Detention Center while they wait for immigration court hearings have signed a letter decrying conditions at the facility.

The letter, written in December, alleges that detainees have experienced medical neglect, safety issues, and racism and discrimination, according to Freedom for Immigrants, the group to whom the letter was addressed. The detainees also said their complaints were not being heard at the facility.

“I was the object of indifference and medical negligence,” one of the men wrote. “I’m experiencing very bad pain in my left ear and I don’t feel OK because of the deficient attention.”


Another detainee reported being called a racial slur by one of the guards at the facility owned and operated by private prison company CoreCivic.

“This alarming pattern of neglect and abuse thrives in an environment where secrecy and isolation are the status quo, otherwise known as the U.S. immigration detention system,” said Cynthia Galaz of Freedom for Immigrants.

One of the detainees who signed the letter called Galaz recently to tell her that he’s been forced to work extra shifts for the facility’s program that pays $1 a day.

CoreCivic denied the allegations made about conditions in its facility.

“Otay Mesa opened in 2015 and is a state-of-the art, LEED Silver certified facility that provides a safe, appropriate environment for detainees,” said Amanda Gilchrist, spokeswoman for the company. “It is independently accredited by the American Correctional Assn. and is monitored on a daily basis by onsite ICE officials.”

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement official said that the Otay Mesa Detention Center scored 100% for the third time in a row on its annual audit last month.


It’s not the first time that detainees and the organizations that advocate for them have made such claims about the San Diego facility. A report last week based on letters sent to a Del Cerro-based group called Detainee Allies between July and November of last year makes similar allegations.

Forty-nine letters received by Detainee Allies reported contaminated or insufficient food, 22 reported medical neglect, 12 reported unsafe working conditions, 16 reported forced labor and wage theft, and 12 reported denial of access to mail and phone calls.

Those letters were given to Cal State San Diego and published last week in an online archive.

The report calls on California Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra to review the facility. He’s required to release a report to the state legislature about immigration detention conditions in the state by March.

Kate Morrissey writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.