Sergio Cruz: My Experience at Mesa Verde Detention Center December 2018 – July 2019

Sergio Cruz, 8/8/2019

Mesa Verde is a disaster. It’s hard for me to talk about it. Everything was very sudden and we didn’t expect for me to be detained. The police ignored me and didn’t respect my rights. ICE ignored the bail payment we made to San Mateo County and took me into detention on Monday, December 3rd. ICE didn’t care that there was a case pending in San Mateo County and took me into detention. When the bail was processed Monday night, the guards at Maguire jail only gave me some of my clothes. I asked about my belt and keys and was told that someone from immigration would be coming to speak with me. The ICE agent arrested me and told me I had no right to bail. That night I was driven to Yuba. I couldn’t sleep. At about 1:30am we got to Yuba and we were there for about half an hour. Then they picked up more detainees and were driven to San Francisco. We were in SF all day Tuesday. In the afternoon, I was interviewed by an ICE agent and he asked if I was afraid of returning to El Salvador, I told him that I was afraid. The agent said I would be referred to an asylum officer. By Tuesday evening I was at Mesa Verde.

On (Thursday) I was driven to Calexico, a four-hour drive from Bakersfield. I was told I would be deported to Mexico. The guards laughed and said we were “going home”, meaning we would be deported. When we got to Calexico, the ICE officer checked his list and realized that I was not Mexican but from El Salvador, and he said they made a mistake so I had to be returned to Mesa Verde. There was one detainee from Los Angeles so he was dropped off first, then we drove back to Bakersfield. From Monday until Thursday, I may have slept only a few hours with all the transport, the stress. I was given very little to eat. I was feeling bad and I asked to be seen by a doctor, but they didn’t send me to anyone, I only received Tylenol. I was told that that I was still being processed, so they didn’t allow me to see a doctor.

I arrived December 4th at Mesa Verde. It was two months later I got the interview with the Asylum officer.

In detention, there are constant fights. The guards don’t do much when a fight breaks out, they only arrive after people have gotten hurt. The other detainees break up into groups and choose a leader, a strong-man. This person controls everyone else, enforces the rules of the detention center or the group’s rules, if someone doesn’t abide by the rules; that person is beaten. The guards do nothing. If the person that was hurt, tries to make a complaint, there are consequences. One time, a fight broke out at the front of the dormitory, the guard was standing right outside. I told the guard someone was fighting. He went over to look, but the fight had stopped. Some guys asked the guard who had told him about the fight. The guard pointed to me. About five guys came over to me and the leader told me I would be beaten if I didn’t move to another dormitory. I asked to be moved to another dorm for fear that I would be beaten.

At the other dorm, everything was pretty much the same. I didn’t talk to anyone, I didn’t go out to the yard. I kept to myself because people would fight over anything. All I did was go eat, go the restroom and go to bed. I was constantly afraid of being beaten.

There was one guard assigned to the dorm. They sat at a desk at the entrance to the dorm. Each dorm housed about 100 people. One time, two detainees threatened to beat the guard, but their leader stopped them.

It was very difficult to be there. The food was half rotten much of the time. They gave us canned food mostly. Almost nothing was fresh. The portions were very small. There is a commissary where we could buy other food but it is very expensive. They paid some detainees $1 per day to work in the kitchen and they told us most of the food was canned. One day in April 2019, the kitchen supervisor (GEO group employee) came to ask if there was anyone who could put up some marble, somewhere – he didn’t specify whether it was inside the center or somewhere else, and that he would pay that person $1.50 a day. He was told that he should go look for a worker outside of the detention center. He left angrily.

My head hurt constantly. I told the doctor that my memory was failing. I didn’t feel well. I told the doctor about the seizures I had experienced in the past. The doctor and the nurses I saw only said that my symptoms were normal. That I didn’t need any tests. They said I was on the waitlist for tests and that there were a lot of people on the list. I was there eight months and never received any medical tests. They only gave me Tylenol for my pain.

Some of the detainees would crush the Tylenol and snort it like cocaine. Some made cigarettes from tea leaves and smoked them in the bathroom. The guards knew all of this was going on but never did anything. Basically, the detention center is run like a prison. With prison rules. Everyone is mixed in together regardless of background, sexual orientation, criminal history, etc.

One day in July, my lawyer came to see me at Mesa Verde. I started to feel badly. She said she would tell the doctor to see me. I was seen by someone who claimed to be a therapist. She asked me what was wrong. I told her my head hurt and didn’t feel well. She said “You had a court date and the judge gave you bad news right?”. I said no. She was making fun at me and said that I was feeling bad because the judge told me I was going to get deported. She told me I could get sleeping pills if I wanted. I told her I didn’t want them because I don’t like taking pills. That I actually needed medical tests to check what was wrong with me. She said if I needed anything, to have the doctor write me a prescription. The doctor never gave me a prescription for anything.

It’s pretty impossible to sleep. Breakfast is served at 6:30 am, but the night before the TV is turned off at 1:00am. People are constantly walking around, making noise. So I really only slept a few hours a night the whole time I was there.

They have tablets detainees can use to communicate with the ICE agents, to ask for medical assistance, to buy things at the commissary. You had to fill out the forms in English. Other detainees would get upset if someone used the tablet, because they were in English. If a detainee knew English, he would charge you for helping you fill out the information. The guards knew Spanish, most of them denied knowing Spanish, but I could hear them speaking Spanish later on and they never wanted to help me fill out any forms on the tablet.

If I were to go into more detail it would take me a long time to recount what I went through at Mesa Verde. To tell everything that went on, I would need a day.

The impact was horrible for my family. It was more for my children. They need my help. They can’t articulate what was going on. But they knew something was wrong. The oldest child would ask a lot for me and why I wasn’t home. His mom and I didn’t tell them the truth. We told them I was working but would be home soon so they wouldn’t feel bad. Everyone was very worried and stressed. We didn’t know what would happen to me or how things would turn out. We still don’t know what may happen. We are appealing the judge’s denial on my withholding of removal petition.

I think it would be good for Mesa Verde to be closed. They treat people like animals.