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ICE detainees sent out of state as punishment for seeking care, letter claims

Updated March 20, 2023 - 9:26 am

Five people detained by ICE were transferred to two Nevada facilities as retaliation for seeking medical care, advocacy groups say.

In November, Erik Mercado, Hector Vidal, Lewis Sibomana, Oscar Loya and Jose Espino were transferred from the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego to the Nye County Jail and Nevada Southern Detention Center.

A letter of complaint dated Feb. 23 was sent to several agencies including the Nye County Sheriff’s Office and Nevada Southern Detention Center, which is owned by CoreCivic, a private prison and corrections company.

“When you take somebody out of the state and take them away from the resources to be able to fight their case, it is an undue burden,” said Bliss Requa-Trautz, executive director of Arriba Las Vegas Workers Center.

Arriba, a nonprofit that advocates for immigrant workers and helps ICE detainees with posting bond, was one of the organizations that signed last month’s letter.

The UNLV Immigration Clinic and Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada also joined organizations from California, including Freedom for Immigrants, in signing the letter.

Mercado had been lobbying for better conditions in San Diego when, in October, he co-authored an op-ed about his experience. About three weeks later, he was transferred to Nye County Jail, according to the letter.

Detainees’ medical records were not transferred over with them, and they had to individually ask for them to be sent to Nevada.

“We’ve seen consistent issues over a course of several years with both Nevada Southern Detention Center and with Nye County Jail, and we’ve frequently heard it from folks who are requesting bond and who are requesting bond assistance in an expedited fashion because they’re failing to get the medical attention that they need,” Requa-Trautz said.

Arriba has received reports of untreated medical needs and a lack of medication for detainees. During the COVID-19 shutdown, detainees at Nye County Jail reported nonfunctional toilets and a lack of basic provisions like soap and masks, according to Requa-Trautz.

Mercado alleged he was verbally abused by a deputy when he went to pick up his kosher meal. The deputy used antisemitic slurs and threatened to assault him. According to the letter, the guard no longer works at the jail and a criminal investigation is ongoing.

At Nevada Southern, Espino was given medication that was different than what had been prescribed to him. His doctor in San Diego said he needed surgery for his condition, but Espino was transferred to Nevada before having surgery.

The letter demanded that the detainees immediately receive medical care for their serious conditions and be considered for medical release, that retaliatory transfers, abuse and negligence be investigated and that the ICE detention contracts at Otay Mesa, Nevada Southern and Nye County be terminated.

According to Freedom for Immigrants, no lawsuits have been filed related to the letter, and it has yet to receive a response from any agency as of Friday.

The organization said that it would escalate the complaint to the offices of U.S. Sens. Jacky Rosen and Catherine Cortez Masto if there was no response to the letter by March 9.

Spokespersons for Rosen and Cortez Masto told the Review-Journal Saturday they were continuing to monitor the situation.

The Nye County Sheriff’s Office said in an email this month that Sheriff Joe McGill was looking into the allegations made in the letter.

Brian Todd, a spokesperson for CoreCivic, said in a statement Friday that the company denies the claims and allegations contained in the letter.

“The reality is that we provide a safe, humane, and appropriate environment for those entrusted to us at these facilities and are constantly striving to deliver an even better standard of care,” he said.

Todd said the decision to transfer detainees is made by ICE and not CoreCivic.

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Contact David Wilson at dwilson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @davidwilson_RJ on Twitter.

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