Who’s in ICE custody at Otay Mesa Detention Center? At least one person has been there five years, report says

A Salvadoran woman sits in one of the legal visitation rooms at Otay Mesa Detention Center.
A Salvadoran woman sits in one of the legal visitation rooms at Otay Mesa Detention Center.
(John Gibbins / San Diego Union-Tribune)

At least one person has spent more than five years in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody at the Otay Mesa Detention Center, according to data obtained through a records request by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse of Syracuse University.

TRAC’s report gives a snapshot of who was held in immigration detention on June 30. At that time, six people had been at the San Diego facility for more than three years.

The man with the longest time inside had been in ICE custody since May 2013, according to TRAC. The man, a citizen of Mexico, has a burglary conviction.


ICE is not authorized to hold people as punishment. It detains people waiting for immigration hearings if it believes they won’t show up to court or are dangerous.

The majority of immigrants held at Otay Mesa Detention Center have no criminal convictions, according to the data.

Of the 956 people in ICE custody at the detention facility at the end of June, 561 had no criminal convictions documented in their records.

For those who did have criminal histories, based on TRAC’s analysis of the most severe criminal conviction for each detainee, DUI was the most common offense.

Illegal entry was the second most common, probably because of the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that greatly increased the number of prosecutions of illegal border crossings. Hondurans make up the largest group with illegal entry convictions at 17, followed by Guatemalans at 9.

ICE spokeswoman Lauren Mack said that an analysis done by the agency around the time of the report showed that 54% of detainees had either a criminal conviction or pending charge.

“These figures reflect appropriate allocation of limited resources,” Mack said, noting that many in ICE custody remain there because immigration law says their detention is mandatory.

At least 12% of the people held at the Otay Mesa site are asylum seekers. TRAC reported that ICE frequently doesn’t fill out this information in a detainee’s record, meaning the number could be higher.

Only seven people held at the Imperial Regional Detention Facility were marked as asylum seekers. None of the detainees from India were labeled as asylum seekers even though many recently recounted their journeys to request asylum.

While Indians make up the largest group of detainees at the Imperial facility, they represent about 4% of the population at Otay Mesa.

Immigrants from Mexico make up 40% of the detainees at the Otay Mesa Detention Center. Hondurans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans are the next largest groups, followed by people from Eritrea, India and China.

At least 2% of those at Otay Mesa have green cards. TRAC also reported that ICE doesn’t input this information into all detainee records.

Morrissey writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.