Immigrant detainees write letter protesting detention center conditions

Thirty-seven immigrants, all currently detained in Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego, California, wrote an open letter condemning the conditions at the center.

Many of the 37 detainees who participated in the letter were members of the migrant caravan made up of Central Americans who arrived at the US border earlier this month seeking asylum.

"We come fleeing to this country, not because we want to, but because we come looking for help (asylum)," the letter reads, "in our countries we are tortured, exploited, extorted and discriminated."

The letter was initially handwritten by the detainees and given to members from the immigration rights group, Pueblo Sin Fronteras, who posted the letter online Thursday.

Bryan Claros, 20, from El Salvador, is one of the detainees is Otay Mesa who co-wrote the letter and traveled in the migrant caravan. NBC News spoke to Claros over the phone Thursday.

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Central American migrants traveling in 'caravan'
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Central American migrants traveling in 'caravan'

Central American migrants, part of a caravan moving through Mexico toward the U.S. border, gather at a makeshift centre of Mexico's National Institute of Migration to register, in Matias Romero, Mexico April 4, 2018.

(REUTERS/Henry Romero)

Central American migrants, part of a caravan moving through Mexico toward the U.S. border, are seen after spending the night at a sports centre in Matias Romero, Mexico April 5, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Henry Romero)

Central American migrants, part of a caravan moving through Mexico toward the U.S. border, sleep at a sports centre in Matias Romero, Mexico April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Romero
Central American migrants, part of a caravan moving through Mexico toward the U.S. border, sleep underneath a blanket at a sports field in Matias Romero, Mexico April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Romero
Central American migrants, part of a caravan moving through Mexico toward the U.S. border, board a bus bound to Puebla, in Matias Romero, Mexico April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Romero
Central American migrants, part of a caravan moving through Mexico toward the U.S. border, are seen on board a bus bound for Puebla, in Matias Romero, Mexico April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Romero
Central American migrants, part of a caravan moving through Mexico toward the U.S. border, walk to the bus station to take a bus bound for Puebla, in Matias Romero, Mexico April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Romero
Central American migrants, part of a caravan moving through Mexico toward the U.S. border, gather to board a bus bound for Puebla, in Matias Romero, Mexico April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Romero
A man from Honduras, part of a caravan of Central American migrants moving through Mexico toward the U.S. border, carries his belongings before taking a bus bound for Puebla, in Matias Romero, Mexico April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Romero
Central American migrants, part of a caravan moving through Mexico toward the U.S. border, walk to the bus station to take a bus bound for Puebla, in Matias Romero, Mexico April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Romero
Central American migrants, part of a caravan moving through Mexico toward the U.S. border, get ready to take a bus bound for Puebla, in Matias Romero, Mexico April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Romero
A Central American migrant, part of a caravan moving through Mexico toward the U.S. border, looks at a mobile phone while resting at a sports field in Matias Romero, Mexico April 4, 2018. Picture taken April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Romero
A child, part of a caravan of Central American migrants moving through Mexico toward the U.S. border, peeks from underneath a blanket after waking up at a sports field in Matias Romero, Mexico April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Romero
Central American migrants, part of a caravan moving through Mexico toward the U.S. border, sleep at a sports centre in Matias Romero, Mexico April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Romero
Children, part of a caravan of Central American migrants moving through Mexico toward the U.S. border, sleep at a sports centre in Matias Romero, Mexico April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Romero
A Central American migrant, part of a caravan moving through Mexico toward the U.S. border, rest at a sports field, in Matias Romero, Mexico April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Romero
A Central American migrant, part of a caravan moving through Mexico toward the U.S. border, plays with a child at a sports field, in Matias Romero, Mexico April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Romero
A man stands near a boiling pot as Central American migrants, part of a caravan moving through Mexico toward the U.S. border, gather at a sports field, in Matias Romero, Mexico April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Romero
Central American migrants, part of a caravan moving through Mexico toward the U.S. border, rest at a sports field, in Matias Romero, Mexico April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Romero
Central American migrants, part of a caravan moving through Mexico toward the U.S. border, rest at a sports centre, in Matias Romero, Mexico April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Romero
Central American migrants, part of a caravan moving through Mexico toward the U.S. border, stand in line to register at a makeshift centre of Mexico's National Institute of Migration, in Matias Romero, Mexico April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Romero
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"The conditions here are awful," said Claros, who has spent a month in detention since reaching the U.S. border. Claros describes the food in the center tasting like it has gone bad and not nearly enough, so most everyone is hungry all the time.

"There are too many people inside here," Claros said. "The showers, the bathrooms, the beds, there are people everywhere."

One of his biggest concerns is getting stuck in the detention center, waiting for the process of seeking asylum to play out.

"There are people here who have been waiting for years," Claros said.

Claros travelled in the migrant caravan with his younger brother, Luis, and their stepfather, Andres Rodriguez. While his family has remained together in detention, Claros mentioned one father from the migrant caravan who was separated from his 10-year-old son.

"They told him they sent his son to a shelter," said Claros, "but the father doesn't know where it is and if he'll ever see his son again."

Claros said he has been asking anyone he can about seeing a judge to discuss his asylum claim but he still hasn't seen one.

The immigrants, all men, are in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at Otay Mesa, run by CoreCivic, a private prison company formerly known as Corrections Corporations of America (CCA).

They claim in the letter that while in detention, they've been mistreated and abused and lack medical attention. "We demand that CCA treats us like the humans that we are," the letter reads.

When detainees ask for medical attention, according to the letter, they are not treated and immigration officials ignore their injuries.

The detainees also claim they received previously used razors to shave, leaving them susceptible to the spread of infection.

"Several of the issues described in this letter have been addressed in response to previous complaints," an ICE spokesperson wrote to NBC News in an email, adding that an ICE compliance unit is currently looking into the complaints alleged in the letter.

In the letter, the detainees claim that CCA offers voluntary work to detainees, but that if they refuse to work, officials threaten to report them to judges and damage their asylum cases.

"Allegations about detainees forced into labor have been addressed," an ICE spokesperson wrote to NBC News in an email, maintaining detainees work under voluntary circumstances. "Those who choose to work are paid by CoreCivic," the statement said.

According to the letter, detainees earn $1.50 for every six hours of work.

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