Updated Feb. 15, 3:45 p.m.
Eighteen U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees held at the Yuba County Jail stopped a hunger strike Friday, soon after after jail command staff met them for more than an hour and took notes on their demands, said Danilo Cortez, who participated in the protest that began Sunday.
"It's a start and we are being optimistic," said Cortez, 37, in a call from jail after eating a sack lunch. "That's what we were waiting for, for them to come talk to us. We just want to be heard."
Cortez said the officials agreed to review their demands for timely medical care, and more access to exercise and education programs.
The Yuba County Sheriff's Department confirmed the meeting with the detainees.
"As of this afternoon, the ICE Hunger Strike participants have accepted meals and the Sheriff's Department has committed to providing them a response to their list of concerns within the coming weeks," said a Leslie Carbah, a spokeswoman with the department.
The 18 detainees, who are being held in a “maximum custody” section at the Yuba County Jail in Marysville, had continued to stage a hunger strike six days after their protest began over conditions at the jail, according to one of the men participating.
The men in the jail’s third floor are kept on lockdown for 19 hours per day in their cells. Even when allowed to step out, they have “nothing to do,” said 37-year-old Cortez.
“To me that’s like torture,” he said. Cortez has spent eight months at the jail while he fights deportation back to Nicaragua.
“We just want to be treated humanely. We just want the basic needs,” Cortez said.
Yuba County Sheriff Wendell Anderson had earlier countered the claims, saying all inmates have access to timely medical care and regular exercise. He said the criminal records of some detainees prevent them from interacting with jail teachers and from taking high school classes and other programs offered at the jail.
“Despite the convictions, arrests or criminal pasts of the detainees, we provide everyone with the best level of care possible,” Anderson said. He added that the jail has passed inspections by ICE.
In January, a federal judge in Sacramento ordered Yuba County Jail to fix long-standing problems, including the same issues detainees are now protesting. The order stemmed from a lawsuit over jail conditions that dates back to 1976.
Attorneys representing inmates said the court order covers everyone incarcerated at the jail, and all inmates are entitled to greater access to medical care, exercise and training programs, regardless of their security level or immigration status.