Richmond mayor tours ICE facility, immigrant rights groups raise money to free detainees on bond

- The mayor of Richmond toured the West County Detention Facility in Richmond on Thursday morning, two days after the Contra Costa County Sheriff announced the agency will no longer contract with ICE and hold undocumented immigrants at the county jail.

Mayor Tom Butt said the tour, granted on June 28, came after "multiple tour requests" dating back to November of 2017 when reports surfaced detailing "multiple cases of mistreatment of detainees at the facility." 

Despite the termination of the ICE contract, Butt said he remains concerned about the allegations of mistreatment and abuse and has strongly opposed the sheriff’s efforts to expand the facility.

Yet after the tour, Butt said he was generally impressed. "The male detainees told us that this was a great place," he said. "They have opportunities for education. They seemed pretty happy."

As for the women, Butt said that some of the detainees told him that they felt the deputies were racist and verbally abusive. The women did not complain of any physical or sexual abuse, Butt said, but they did say they were denied access to the bathrooms at times. Jail staff told him that sometimes there were designated lockdown times.

Butt was joined by Councilmembers Ben Choi and Ada Recinos along with San Francisco Chronicle Columnist Otis Taylor, KQED Reporter Sara Hossaini and members of the Human Rights and Human Relations Commission.

Jimmy Lee, a spokesman for the sheriff, has previously denied allegations of mistreatment at the facility. In fact, when allegations arose in June, Lee sent out a lengthy "fact sheet" detailing the many political leaders, from Congressmen Michael Thompson and Mark DeSaulnier to Calif. Sen. Nancy Skinner to U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein, who have all toured the facility.

In addition, Lee highlighted all the services at the facility, noting that ICE detainees are also recipients of reading classes, drug and alcohol meetings, parenting lessons, workplace readiness and vocational workshops and counseling, among other educational opportunities. 

Meanwhile, groups including the Freedom for Immigrants and the Contra Costa Immigrant Rights Alliance are raising money to pay the bonds and legal fees to free detainees currently being held at the ICE facility in Richmond and who are at risk of being transferred far away from their Bay Area families.

The ICE facility in Richmond is the only one in the Bay Area.The next closest facilities are in Yuba County and Bakersfield. But some detainees have also been moved to places as far away as Colorado, KTVU has learned.

According to Liz Martinez, a spokeswoman for Freedom for Immigrants, the decision to terminate the ICE contract, which will take place in four months, was made "in haste without any input from people detained by ICE and impacted communities about how to achieve a just closure that would return people to their families. " There are about 170 detainees currently being housed at the facilty.

The average bond is $5,000 per detainee, according to the Bay Area Immigration Bond Fund, although sometimes the bond can be as  high as $20,000 or in the case of an Afghan teen who fled the Taliban, as high as $35,000. Bond allows a detainee to await court hearings at home, often with a GPS monitoring device, as opposed to waiting behind bars. 

Rebecca Merton, national coordinator for Freedom for Immigrants, said she's not sure how many detainees are eligible for bond, but attorneys who visited on Monday are working to assess that situation. 

Since February, she said the Bay Area Immigration Bond Fund has raised $40,000 and paid for the bond release of nine detainees.

IF YOU'RE INTERESTED: The West County Detention Facility Community Fund is accepting donations as is the Bay Area Immigration Bond Fund.

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