ICE Violates First Amendment Rights of 60+ Attorneys and Faith Leaders

June 20, 2017

June 20, 2017

To commemorate World Refugee Day (Tuesday, June 20th), over 60 faith leaders and attorneys made a pilgrimage to the Adelanto Detention Facility from Los Angeles to visit with our friends and clients, many of whom had been on a hunger strike the week prior. ICE and GEO Group denied all our visits. In response to a peaceful 5-minute interfaith prayer outside the facility, ICE and GEO Group then put the entire facility on lockdown.

Attorneys and family members who were not part of the pilgrimage and who had already been granted entrance to the facility were expelled from the facility by ICE and GEO Group in response to our prayer. This included young children clinging to their toys who had driven for hours to visits their parents.

“The denial of access represents an ongoing and troubling pattern of retaliation, and raises real concerns about mistreatment of people in immigration detention at this infamously abusive for-profit facility,” said Christina Mansfield, co-founder/executive director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC).

This comes just days after 9 men and over 33 women went on hunger strike at the Adelanto Detention Facility to protest substandard medical care, unjustly high immigration bonds, lack of basic respect, and lack of opportunities to connect with family.

“When we see abuse in detention, it is our moral obligation to speak up and stand in solidarity with our friends in detention,” said Christina Fialho, co-founder/co-executive director of CIVIC. “By denying us access after a peaceful and short prayer, ICE has tried to make us choose between our First Amendment rights and visiting our friends and clients in immigration detention. This is not a choice our government can legally ask us to make.”

Christina Fialho, who also is a California attorney, was denied visits with 14 of her clients on Tuesday who were detained at the Adelanto Detention Facility. Fialho had received email approval from ICE in advance of Tuesday for her and 4 of her legal assistants to conduct legal visits at Adelanto. According to the Adelanto Detention Facility rules, attorneys are allowed 24 hour access to their clients in immigration detention. And federal standards require attorneys to have access to their clients 7 days a week without pre-approval; only legal assistants require pre-approval by ICE. To visit at Adelanto through regular visitation hours as a family member, friend, or community member does not require pre-approval from ICE or GEO Group. As a courtesy, our group did provide notice to ICE by email.

On other occasions, GEO and ICE have arbitrarily and without valid grounds denied access to attorneys and visitor volunteers associated with CIVIC in retaliation for peaceful protest activities and public statements protected by the First Amendment.

  • In November 2015, attorneys and legal assistants were denied visits with people on hunger strike.
  • In May 2015, GEO Group and ICE prevented Christina Fialho, a California attorney and co-founder/executive director of CIVIC, from visiting her clients after she lawfully exercised her First Amendment rights.
  • In August 2013, CIVIC’s Christina Fialho and CIVIC visitor volunteers were barred from visiting for over a month at the Adelanto Detention Facility in retaliation again for exercising their First Amendment rights. The ACLU of SoCal and Sidley Austin LLP, pro bono attorney for Christina Fialho and CIVIC, raised concerns about the 2013 and 2015 denials in a letter dated August 24, 2015, which to this day neither GEO nor ICE has responded to or in any way denied.
  • In January 2017, CIVIC filed a federal civil rights complaint about a general increase in family and community visitation denials at Adelanto.
  • In March 2017, CIVIC filed a federal civil rights complaint, detailing access denials and restrictions in violation of federal policy at Adelanto and 13 other immigration detention facilities in Arizona, California, Virginia, Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

While CIVIC and allies remain concerned about general visitation denials and these past First Amendment violations, Tuesday’s visitation denials marked a disturbing new Constitutional violation. ICE and GEO Group’s retaliation against the faith leaders violated their fundamental right to free exercise of religion.

“We were gathered at Adelanto Detention Facility to offer our pastoral support, through visitation and prayer, for members of the community in detention. It is unconscionable that the GEO Group and ICE would respond to this intention, of which we had given them notice, with a seemingly retaliatory action by closing all access to the facility. We will remain prayerfully vigilant to ensure that our friends in detention have the right to visitations, and that their spiritual and material care is being taken seriously,” said Rev. Francisco Garcia, who is the Co-Chair of the Sanctuary Task Force of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and also the rector of Holy Faith Church in Inglewood.

“I find it difficult to comprehend the actions that GEO Group and ICE took in response to our peaceful and prayerful pilgrimage to the Adelanto Detention Facility. Our aim of bringing a bit of healing and hope to those detained quickly became an outrageous display of meanness and injustice. Not only were we prevented from visiting and providing pastoral presence to our brothers and sisters inside the facility, the many families and children who were there visiting were also forced to re-experience the pain of being separated from their loved ones as they were ejected from the building into the 110 degree heat. My hope is that somehow our loving intentions made it past those locked doors at Adelanto into the hearts of those suffering inside. They will not be forgotten and we will be back,” said Rev. Canon Jaime Edwards-Acton, who is the Co-Chair of the Sanctuary Task Force of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and also rector of St. Stephen’s Church in Hollywood. 

“On World Refugee Day, I attempted to visit people in detention at Adelanto Detention Facility so they would know they are not forgotten. As a Unitarian Universalist minister and a person of conscience, I believe all people have dignity and worth. I believe the lives of people in detention are worth fighting for. I ask that Geo Corp, ICE, and the State of California open the doors of this detention center and join us in working for the day when no human being is illegal,” said Rev. Rebecca Benefiel Bijur, a Unitarian Universalist minister in Santa Monica.

“All religions celebrate our common humanity and the sacredness of human life. Inflicting pain or suffering at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity violates this very sacredness. Our religious traditions demand that we welcome the stranger. Detaining people who are fleeing violence in their own countries to seek refuge in ours is going against all we believe. We denounce the ill treatment of people in ICE detention and seek immediate changes to policies that are abusive and inhumane,” said Grace Dyrness with Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace.

“Tuesday’s experience of learning more about the suffering of people in detention at Adelanto, being given the name of a hunger striker to visit, and then having the door locked in our faces as we were praying has only increased my determination to work for the release of all those imprisoned in Adelanto. I hope my sisters and brothers inside heard about our big red bus and know the world cares what happens to them,” said Archdeacon Joanne Leslie of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.

This denial of freedom of religion mirrors the type of abuse happening inside the Adelanto Detention Facility on a regular basis. Women who went on hunger strike last week explain that they often try to pray in circles, holding each other’s hands. But the GEO guards physically break up their prayer circles and threaten them with “the hole,” also known as solitary confinement. ICE has allowed this behavior by GEO Group to go unchecked, despite complaints by people in immigration detention directly to ICE.

“When our prayers are stopped by GEO Group, it makes me feel like praying is something bad,” said one woman who was on hunger strike last week. “But what I say to them is that if being put in the hole is for God, then take me.”

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The pilgrimage to the Adelanto Detention Facility was organized and supported by Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP), Sanctuary Task Force of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), Immaculate Heart Community, Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice, Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE), All Saints Church Pasadena.