Mesa Verde Hunger Striker Files Federal Administrative Complaint Challenging ICE’s Appalling Pattern of Medical Neglect and Excessive Force

December 21, 2023 News

Media Contact: media@advancingjustice-alc.org

Mesa Verde Hunger Striker Files Federal Administrative Complaint Challenging ICE’s Appalling Pattern of Medical Neglect and Excessive Force

SAN FRANCISCO — Amid an active Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) investigation into Mesa Verde and Golden State Annex immigration detention facilities, Mr. Jose Ruben Hernandez Gomez has filed a federal administrative complaint to seek accountability for the physical and mental trauma, medical negligence, abuse, and coercion he survived this spring at the hands of ICE officers and medical staff.

In February 2023, Mr. Hernandez Gomez and dozens of other people detained at Mesa Verde and Golden State Annex launched a 35-day hunger strike to peacefully protest inhumane conditions at the two facilities. Day after day, Mr. Hernandez Gomez and other strikers endured unconstitutional retaliation and violent tactics from ICE officers and the GEO Group—the for-profit prison corporation that owns and runs both facilities—to break the strike. Legal service providers and medical providers sent letters to ICE condemning the agency’s violation of basic medical standards, including its repeated use of practices that can cause death.

“Whether our families are from Mexico, Laos, or Haiti, we’ve formed tight-knit communities in California so that our children and future generations can also put down roots and build a better life,” said Jose Ruben Hernandez Gomez, who has lived in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident since he was a toddler. “I went on hunger strike with more than 80 other people because no one should be subject to ICE’s unrelenting and dehumanizing cruelty. On March 7, 2023, that nightmare took an even more violent turn. To this day, I’m suffering from neurological harms, post-traumatic stress, and depression because of the medical neglect, excessive force, and abuse I was subjected to in ICE custody.”

In the administrative complaint, Mr. Hernandez Gomez, through his attorneys at the Asian Law Caucus and ACLU of Northern California, is seeking compensation for medical harms and monetary damages to hold ICE accountable and deter future misconduct. The complaint details horrific actions by ICE in March and April 2023, including:

  • Injuring Mr. Hernandez Gomez by violently dragging him out of his dorm at Mesa Verde on March 7, forcing his body on the ground, pressing onto him, and painfully handcuffing his hands behind his back;
  • Subjecting Mr. Hernandez Gomez to invasive and sexually-abusive pat down searches;
  • Forcing Mr. Hernandez Gomez to endure hours of extreme discomfort and dangerous driving conditions when ICE transported him from Mesa Verde to an airstrip;
  • Forcibly transferring Mr. Hernandez Gomez to El Paso Service Processing Center hundreds of miles away, where he endured medical negligence and malpractice, threats of force-feeding, and a moldy cell without clean drinking water;
  • Shackling Mr. Hernandez Gomez’s waist, arms, and legs to the hospital bed at Good Samaritan Hospital in Bakersfield, where ICE took him after Mesa Verde doctors observed the severity of his physical and mental state; and
  • Confining Mr. Hernandez Gomez to an unsafe isolation unit for three more weeks where his neurological symptoms and physical well-being worsened.

“When Mr. Hernandez Gomez started the hunger strike, he was a healthy 33-year-old committed to reuniting with his loved ones. Now, as a result of ICE’s recklessness and medical neglect, he must use a cane to walk and is in recovery from neurological problems, anxiety, and depression,” said Aseem Mehta, an immigrant rights attorney at the Asian Law Caucus. “Mr. Hernandez Gomez isn’t alone in his experiences.That’s precisely why he’s choosing to courageously hold ICE accountable for its unconscionable conduct – with the hope that doing so will deter ICE from harming others.”

"Mr. Hernandez Gomez suffered unspeakably while trapped in ICE custody. He was violently assaulted, isolated, and subjected to medical malpractice by facility staff, resulting in severe and ongoing physical and emotional harm," said Minju Cho, a staff attorney at the ACLU of Northern California. "ICE must be held accountable and provide Mr. Hernandez Gomez the resources he needs to heal, but there will be no true justice until this traumatizing, profit-driven detention system is shut down."

Immigrants and Refugees in California and Across the U.S. Call Attention to ICE’s Systemic Violence

Amidst brutal retaliation from ICE, hunger strikers at Mesa Verde and Golden State Annex filed a class action lawsuit in federal court to halt ICE and the GEO Group's violence. Since the hunger strike ended, people who are detained and formerly detained have continued to call attention to ICE’s ongoing abuse, including at protests at the agency’s San Francisco regional office and Fresno sub-field office and in a collective letter denouncing Golden State Annex’s mishandling of a COVID-19 outbreak.

This fall, dozens of people embarked on a 460-mile pilgrimage across California to hold vigils at the state’s six active immigrant detention centers, including Mesa Verde and Golden State Annex. The protests and pilgrimage underscored a recent letter from six California members of Congress who urged DHS to, “as swiftly as possible, end contracts with GEO for Mesa Verde and Golden State” if the active CRCL investigation confirms detained people’s reports of retaliation and abuse.

At Mesa Verde and Golden State Annex, detained people are continuing their labor strike, protesting ICE’s and the GEO Group’s reliance on cleaning and sanitation services from incarcerated people who are paid only $1 a day. As part of a separate lawsuit challenging forced labor at another California immigration detention facility, a court expert calculated that GEO Group has made an extra $26.7 million in profit between 2011 and 2019 through the low-wage work performed by detained immigrants.

ICE’s and the GEO Group’s appalling patterns of medical neglect, excessive force, retaliation, and abuse in California facilities are not isolated practices. In Washington, New Mexico, Georgia, Louisiana, and other states across the country, immigrants and refugees detained in ICE facilities, including those run by private prison corporations, are leading campaigns to end the “barbaric” and “negligent” conditions, as uncovered in a major NPR report that examined records from two dozen facilities across 16 states.

Read Mr. Hernandez Gomez’s federal administrative complaint, and find more information about the Mesa Verde - Golden State Annex hunger strike at bit.ly/MVGSAHungerStrike.