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.

Riverside Sheriffs’ Association Supports Dignity Not Detention!

Yesterday, the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association sent a letter to the California Assembly in strong support of SB 29, the Dignity Not Detention Act, which eliminates the utilization by local governments of for-profit, private prison corporations for the detention of immigrants in California.  This bill is authored by Senator Ricardo Lara and co-sponsored by CIVIC and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.

The Riverside Sheriffs’ Association is a 4,000-law enforcement member organization.  Their letter of support, addressed the the California Assembly highlights last week’s hunger strikes at the Adelanto Detention Facility.  The Sheriffs’ Association also explains:

“Numerous studies have demonstrated that main objective of these Wall Street private prison cash-cows is to maximize profits for their shareholders. For-profit private prison companies accomplish this goal by implementing relaxed hiring standards, reduced staffing levels, inadequate employee training and by paying their workers substantially less in wages and benefits when compared to professional, public correctional peace officers.”

CIVIC wants to thank the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association for their support for this bill!

California’s New Budget Adopts Groundbreaking Changes Concerning Immigration Detention

Provisions Include Moratorium on Detention Contract Expansion & Creation of State Detention Facility Oversight

Christina Mansfield of CIVIC speaks at press conference with CA Senator Ricardo Lara and CA Attorney General Xavier Becerra. June 2017.

Christina Mansfield of CIVIC speaks at press conference with CA Senator Ricardo Lara and CA Attorney General Xavier Becerra. June 2017.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA. – Today, the California Legislature approved the SB 87/AB 103 budget action, which includes two key provisions that will curtail the growth of immigration detention in California and give the state Attorney General $1 million to monitor all immigration detention facilities in California. This law will be the first in the United States to give a state agency the power to monitor immigration detention facilities and the only in the country to put a moratorium on the expansion of immigration detention in public jails across a state.

The budget action comes as 42 women and men ended their hunger strike today at Adelanto, California’s largest private immigration detention facility. These women and men were protesting inhumane detention conditions, including medical neglect and sexual assault. Just this week, the men were drenched with pepper spray, beaten and transferred into a high security area by private prison guards. The women were threatened with the same treatment.

The budget action prevents California’s municipalities from entering into new contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or any federal agency for the purpose of detaining immigrants in city or county jails. It also prevents the expansion of detention beds in publicly run facilities under existing contracts with ICE, including any facilities housing immigrant children.

The budget action also sends a strong message to detention facility operators that California will be watching to ensure that they are treating every single person in their custody with the humanity they deserve.

The budget action tasks the state Attorney General with monitoring all detention facilities in California, including conditions of confinement, standards of care and circumstances around apprehension and transfer. These reviews will occur over the next 10 years, with findings made available to the public. The first report is due by March 1, 2019.

AB 103 perfectly complements SB 29, the Dignity Not Detention Act, which seeks to remove California’s municipalities from the business of private immigration detention altogether. With support from a statewide coalition of groups, including the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance (CIYJA), the Immigrant Youth Coalition (IYC), and Human Rights Watch (HRW), SB 29 is currently in the Assembly and will be heard in the Assembly Judiciary Committee. SB 29 is authored by California State Senator Ricardo Lara (D – Bell Gardens) and co-sponsored by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) and Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC). The ILRC and CIVIC advocated for and consulted on the immigration detention provisions in today’s state budget action.

California State Senator Ricardo Lara said:  

“I want to congratulate both the Legislature and the Governor for standing up for our most vulnerable and sending a different message than what the federal government is sending to our immigrant communities. This isn’t really about immigration — this is about human rights and assuring that we uphold our American constitutional values.”

Christina Fialho, an attorney and the Co-Executive Director at Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) said:

“While our ultimate goal is to abolish immigration detention nationwide, this is a powerful first step in a state with the largest immigrant population in the country. California holds the most immigrants after Texas, and about a quarter of all people in immigration detention pass through California detention facilities each year. What we do here in California has a direct effect on the national immigration detention context. While California cannot end immigration detention on its own, California can lead the way. We hope that this bill inspires others states to step up to ensure that the Trump administration’s cold-hearted attempt to jail even more immigrants does not become a reality.”

“The Attorney General of California now has the power and resources to oversee an industry that has operated with impunity for far too long. Hunger strikers and other immigrants in detention face physical assault on almost a daily basis in California. CIVIC’s investigation into sexual and physical assault found that out of the 4,500 complaints lodged with Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) in California, OIG investigated less than 1 percent. If the federal government won’t regulate its detention facilities, the state of California will provide its own oversight over immigration detention facilities.”

Grisel Ruiz, Staff Attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center said:

“These are groundbreaking advancements in our nation’s troubled immigration detention landscape. This law will be the first in the United States to give a state agency the power to monitor immigration detention facility conditions and makes California the only state in the country to put a moratorium on the expansion of immigration detention.”

“California prides itself on the just and humane treatment of all of its residents, and immigrants are no exception. While California cannot work alone to fix our impractical federal immigration system, including its abuse-ridden detention arm, our state’s leaders have committed themselves to advancing commonsense policies such as SB 87/AB 103 that underscore our collective values of fair and compassionate treatment, welcoming and diversity.”

To request an interview with any of the individuals above, please contact Kemi Bello at kbello@ilrc.org.

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About the Immigrant Legal Resource Center

The Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) is a national nonprofit that works with immigrants, community organizations, legal professionals, and policy makers to build a democratic society that values diversity and the rights of all people. Through community education programs, legal training & technical assistance, and policy development & advocacy, the ILRC’s mission is to protect and defend the fundamental rights of immigrant families and communities. www.ilrc.org

About Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement

Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) is the national immigration detention visitation network, which is working to end U.S. immigration detention. CIVIC visits and monitors 43 of the largest immigration detention facilities in the country on a weekly basis and runs the largest national hotline for people in immigration detention. CIVIC is headquartered in California.  www.endisolation.org 

Hunger Strikers Overcome Brutal Retaliation, Persevering into their Second Day

Adelanto, CA – It has now been 31 hours since nine individuals, known as the #Adelanto9, began a hunger strike at the Adelanto Detention Center in California yesterday morning. Within hours of refusing to eat food or drink water, the #Adelanto9 reported that they were drenched with pepper spray, beaten and transferred into a high security area by GEO Group (GEO) guards, the notorious private prison company that operates the facility.

“The retaliation that the #Adelanto9 endured as a result of their hunger strike is a shameful attempt to suppress efforts to expose the shocking realities of immigration detention from those inside,” said Tristan Call of Sureñxs En Acción. “The abusive lengths to which GEO has gone are appalling and endanger the well-being of those on hunger strike.”

The extreme force that the #Adelanto9 faced yesterday tragically affirm longstanding concerns of physical abuse by GEO staff and inadequate medical treatment raised by immigrant rights groups, including Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), Detention Watch Network and Inland Empire-Immigrant Youth Collective, which have continually called for the facility’s closure. Most alarmingly, Adelanto became the deadliest detention center in 2017, with three deaths in three months. To date, ICE has failed to respond to demands that the findings of the investigations into these deaths be made public.

“ICE and its contractors like GEO Group operate with impunity in California. Hunger strikers and other immigrants in detention face physical assault on almost a daily basis in California. CIVIC’s investigation into sexual and physical assault found that out of the 4,500 complaints lodged with Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) in California, OIG investigated less than 1 percent. If the federal government won’t regulate its detention facilities, it is time for the state of California to provide its own oversight over immigration detention facilities,” said Christina Fialho, a California-based attorney and co-executive director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC).

“The hunger strike stresses what advocates have long been saying — ICE and GEO are unfit to take care of people in their custody,” said Mitzie Perez of Inland Empire-Immigrant Youth Collective. “Adelanto must be shut down.”

The #Adelanto9 follow a 2015 hunger strike at Adelanto and a massive hunger strike at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington earlier this year, a facility that is also run by GEO. The growing pattern of hunger strikes within immigration detention centers paints a grim picture of life inside detention as people detained risk their health and retaliation to expose egregious conditions and system-wide abuses.

“The Adelanto Detention Center exemplifies the systemic abuses found throughout detention centers nationwide, ” said Danny Cendejas, organizing director of Detention Watch Network. “We stand in solidarity with the #Adelanto9 as they put their bodies on the line to expose the injustices not just within Adelanto, but system-wide.”

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Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) is the national immigration detention visitation network, which is working to end U.S. immigration detention by monitoring human rights abuses, elevating stories, building community-based alternatives to detention, and advocating for system change. We have been visiting and monitoring the Adelanto Detention Facility since 2012. For more information, visit www.endisolation.org.

Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition of organizations and individuals working to expose and challenge the injustices of the United States’ immigration detention and deportation system and advocate for profound change that promotes the rights and dignity of all persons. Founded in 1997 by immigrant rights groups, DWN brings together advocates to unify strategy and build partnerships on a local and national level to end immigration detention. Visit www.detentionwatchnetwork.org. Follow @DetentionWatch.

Inland Empire-Immigrant Youth Collective (IE-IYC) is a grassroots undocumented youth-led organization. We are committed to creating a safe space for immigrant youth regardless of legal status, race, gender, sexuality, educational background and other intersections that are crucial to the undocumented identity. We have been supporting regional efforts against the Adelanto Detention Facility since 2013. For more information, visit www.ieiyc.org.

Sureñxs En Acción is a Nashville-based migrant liberation collective organizing against immigrant detention, state violence, and for-profit prisons in the US South and the Global South.

Third Death in Immigration Detention Makes the Adelanto Detention Center the Deadliest Facility in 2017

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Washington, DC — Immigrant rights organizations, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), Detention Watch Network (DWN), and the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Vicente Caceres-Maradiaga. Caceres-Maradiaga, 46, died last Wednesday while in the custody of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after being detained at Adelanto Detention Center in California. This tragedy marks the third death to occur at Adelanto this year, after Sergio Alonso Lopez and Osmar Epifanio Gonzalez-Gadba.

“Adelanto is now the deadliest detention center of 2017,” said Javier Hernandez of Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice. “Long before this egregious distinction, Adelanto has been known as a facility where abuse and mismanagement persist.”

The Adelanto detention center where Caceres-Maradiaga died is operated by The GEO Group Inc., a notorious private prison company that has a well-documented track record of abuse, mismanagement and neglect. The passing of Caceres-Maradiaga brings ICE’s total death count to 173 since 2003 — a shameful record further exposing ICE’s inability to guarantee the safety and health of people in its custody. Recent investigations into deaths in immigration detention have found that inadequate medical care at detention centers has contributed to numerous deaths.

“We are outraged by the disregard for human life and ICE’s ongoing refusal to meet demands for transparency,” said Danny Cendejas, organizing director at Detention Watch Network. “We cannot allow the loss of life in immigration detention to become routine and desensitized — ICE must be held accountable for the rising death toll.”

A federal investigation into Adelanto’s first death concluded that the death of Fernando Dominguez could have been prevented. CIVIC and Human Rights Watch recently analyzed the medical records of Raul Ernesto Morales-Ramos, a man who died in 2015 at Adelanto, concluding that subpar medical care contributed to his death.

“Adelanto is notorious for its substandard medical care.  A government investigation in 2015 forced GEO Group to turn over its medical unit to Correct Care Solutions (CCS), but nothing has improved.  In fact, CCS’s CEO is a former VP at GEO Group.  If the federal government is unwilling to shut down Adelanto, it is time for California to cut ties with private immigration detention facilities by passing the Dignity Not Detention Act,” said Christina Fialho, a California-based attorney and co-executive director of CIVIC.  

The Dignity Not Detention Act, which just passed the Senate, would end for-profit immigration detention contracting in the state of California.