Maria Ortiz Cortez was released after being detained for a year and a half at the West County Detention Facility in Richmond, CA

Maria with her children, Brandon and Marisela

**UPDATE: CIVIC was able to help raise Maria’s bond, and on her birthday, June 9, 2017, she was released and reunited with her children!**

Maria Ortiz Cortez is the mother of two children, Brandon, age 14, and Marisela, age 12, who live in Salinas, California. Maria is currently detained at the West County Detention Facility in Richmond where over 200 people are in ICE custody. The Contra Costa Sheriff’s Office, like many across the country, collaborates with the Trump administration’s ambition of mass detention and deportation. Taxpayer money pays for the incarceration of people like Maria.

Maria has been confined in immigration detention for more than seventeen months. She suffers daily from the anxiety and depression caused by not knowing how much longer she will be locked up in a place that was never intended for prolonged detention. In spite of this nightmare, she remains steadfast in her pursuit of justice not only for herself and her family, but for the tens of thousands of other immigrants who are currently incarcerated in the United States. Here, she speaks to the public from detention:

April 21, 2017
Hello to the public,

Please receive warm greetings from this brief note. My name is Maria Ortiz Cortez. I’m writing to ask you for whatever support you’re able to give me. The truth is I want to leave this awful place where they treat us so cruelly**. **I want to leave this place, with my U Visa approved and my work permit. I want the judge to allow me to leave on bail. I want them to close my case so that I never have to have anything to do with Immigration again.

I’ve been in detention for one year and five months. What’s most important is that I want to leave to be with my two kids whom I miss so much, so that I can support them.

I’m getting worn out by all this, especially because I’m a single mother.

It’s because I want to leave that I’m writing you to ask from the bottom of my heart for your help. Being here day after day is agonizing. The deputies treat us like animals. I want every one of us who is in detention to get out of here and to be with their families, their loved ones, and their children if they have them.

The goal of all your protests is to ensure that all of us can be free and not be here in this jail. And so that soon they will tell us that yes, we can leave. And if we can’t leave, they should let us return to our country. I want them to decide soon so that we don’t have to be here forever. If we are going to contest our cases, I want them to respond quickly so that our families or those who count on their families can be free.

Personally, I don’t have any support from my family, which is sad because when you can’t rely on anyone you feel alone and helpless. But when this letter reaches you I want to make sure that you know my situation. Because up to this moment no one has helped me with my bail, which is $5,000. No one else has helped me get out of this place. I’m asking you with all my heart for assistance.

I am so desperate to leave.

Maria Ortiz

In this following letter Maria describes one example of the institutionalized medical neglect that people in immigration detention routinely suffer. In addition to 171 documented deaths of individuals in ICE custody since 2003, thousands more are not receiving the urgent medical care they need for conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and severe mental illness. Tens of thousands of others are denied or erratically provided their necessary medications. Even worse, the inevitably adverse physical and psychological effects of incarceration go mostly untreated; the very efforts to seek medical attention are often ridiculed, if not punished, by staff, which leads to a vicious cycle of despair and further illness.

April 28, 2017
Dear public,

I want to tell you about a compañera of mine, Señora S., who is in here with us. On February 15 at 8:00 PM, she had an accident. She was taken to a hospital in Martinez. She was only in the hospital for several hours and then they sent her back to the detention facility. But she had continuing problems with her health. Señora S. is suffering from anxiety and depression and from all the horrible thoughts and feelings those conditions can cause.

She felt so hopeless that she tried to take her own life; it seemed easier to be dead than to go on feeling the way she was feeling.

What made it worse was that she had a court date and they denied her bail; that’s when she decided to kill herself. She became extremely anxious and started saying that she was going to kill herself. She fainted and they sent for the nurses. A nurse arrived and she was given oxygen. She said she wanted to kill herself. The deputies picked her up off the floor with all her things. We asked the nurses to come and give her medicine and demanded to know where they were taking Señora S. One of the nurses told us that they had gone to Martinez but didn’t tell us anything else.

We still don’t know what happened to our friend, which is why we’re addressing the public to see if you can do something for her, if you make inquiries with Immigration officers or at the Martinez hospital or at the detention facility. We want to know if she is there or if she’s somewhere else and if her family knows where she is.

The truth is we are very worried about her. When they took her away, she was in a terrible state, very sad and depressed. And the reason for that is that we’ve been in this detention facility for months and sometimes years. They treat us horribly.

We’re caged up all day with nothing to do.

During the week, from Monday to Friday, we have two hours to bathe, but if there’s an emergency, we’re not even allowed that. If everything is going “well,” the deputies give us free time when it’s scheduled, but if something comes up, they don’t give us any free time, which is completely unjust. The people who work in Immigration see us as criminals, or worse.

We’re asking for a chance to leave. Up to this very moment we haven’t had any response to our demand that we be allowed to be with our families. All of us want to get out of here and be good people but Immigration has us here. For all these days, months, and years. It is not just.

That’s why we’re asking with all our hearts that you continue protesting. Don’t stop! Because, with your protests, there’s at least a chance we’ll be free soon. We’re going to keep motivating ourselves. We know that we have people on the outside to count on. The men, our compañeros, also feel your support. We know that you’re helping us and making it possible for the judges and ICE to show mercy and give us justice. That’s all we’re asking for.

We want every immigrant to be heard. We want everything that’s happening to us to be known. We want the heinous way they’re treating us to be known.

You on the outside will put an end to this nightmare and make things right. We want you to look out for all of our compañeras who are in detention. For now, we’re awaiting your response, your support, and your understanding. We say thank you from the bottom of our heart. One day soon we will speak to each other. God bless all of you now and forever.

All the compañeras in immigration detention

Maria with her son Brandon

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May 9, 2017

Today an ICE supervisor came. I told her we have awful medical service and that many of my compañeras are sick. I also told her that we make our medical complaints known, but they ignore us. The supervisor replied to me in a really rude way and said, Señora, worry about yourself, not about other people…

In the name of all my compañeras, I want to say that there is a problem here. Many of us are mothers. We have children. We want to talk to them, to know how they’re doing, but in this detention facility they don’t allow us to do so. The deputies get annoyed or they just ignore us. There can be nothing wrong with what we’re asking, which just to know how our families and our children are doing. But up until now, we haven’t been able to communicate with our families in any way.

Maria and her family still need our help. Contribute to her building a new life here: