ICE facilities in CA under scrutiny for poor conditions
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On February 26th, 2019 Attorney General Xavier Becerra released a report regarding the state of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities in California, at the conclusion of a yearlong investigation by officials from the Department of Justice (DOJ). As detailed in the report, the investigation found numerous faults with the conditions of the facilities, but according to the Sacramento Bee, Becerra hopes the revelation of such conditions will prompt the federal government to invest in the reformation of the facilities.
ICE is responsible for enforcing the customs and immigration laws of the United States though the investigation, detention, and potential deportation of individuals who violate them. Currently, there are over 200 locally and privately owned facilities dedicated to the detention of immigrants. As reported by the Human Rights Watch, California is home to over 50 facilities, with 10 being primary centers for detention.
The investigation focusing on the California detention centers was launched in 2017, and consisted of one day visits to each of the six public and four private facilities that the Sacramento Bee reports “have housed more than 74,000 civil immigration detainees, including minors, in the last three years.” Despite the fact that DOJ officials were often prohibited from speaking directly with both the workers and the detainees, the officials were able to clearly observe the harsh conditions of the facilities that violated federal detention standards. Among those observed and documented in the official report were “common challenges” such as prolonged confinement without breaks, language barriers, limited access to medical/mental health care, difficulties in external communication, and complications in obtaining legal representation. More disturbing, however, were the bedsheet nooses observed in a handful of cells at the Adelanto Detention Center in October of 2018. According to USA Today, these makeshift nooses were described as a “daily occurrence” by contract guards when asked about them by Inspector General Staff and thus not considered a “high priority.”
Becerra believes that the conditions of these facilities have deteriorated substantially since the election of Donald Trump, and he sees the problem as simply the fact that “the federal government is not doing its job of overseeing these detention centers and enforcing its own standards for detention.” The Sacramento Bee reports that as other government officials such as California Governor Gavin Newsom have taken legal action against the Trump administration in the past regarding the detention facilities, Becerra too filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration in an effort to combat the perpetuation of unjust treatment in detention facilities, as he believes that the “civil and humanitarian” treatment of immigrants in federal custody is essential. Christina Fialho, co-founder and executive director of Freedom for Immigrants, echoes this sentiment, seeing the conditions of the facilities in California as mirroring “our immigration detention system as a whole.”
Both the report and the investigation have done a significant amount to spur further reevaluation of and reformation in the facilities, and critical steps have been taken towards safer and more altruistic conditions in immigrant detention facilities. According to Becerra, however, “the year’s long process to ensure ICE facilities are not operating in a ‘cloak of darkness’” is just beginning.