PRESS CONTACT: Rebecca Merton, Visitation Network Program Coordinator, CIVIC RMerton@endisolation.org | 385-212-4842
Watchdog Organization & Immigrants Formerly Detained File Civil Rights Complaint Alleging the Frequent Denial of Legal and Social Visits from Attorneys, Families, and Community Members at Adelanto Detention Facility
Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), a national advocacy organization, filed a complaint today, calling for a federal investigation into the visitation policies and practices at Adelanto Detention Facility and termination of Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE)’s contract with Adelanto Detention Facility.
January 18, 2017 – Adelanto, CA – Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) has filed a formal complaint with the Office for Civil Rights & Civil Liberties within the Department of Homeland Security on behalf of the people who are currently or were previously detained at the Adelanto Detention Facility (ADF) in Adelanto, California. The complaint details frequent violations of federal standards regarding social and legal visits to persons in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Since its inception as an immigration detention facility, ADF’s denial and restriction of visitor access has been well documented. Recently, however, advocates have witnessed a disturbing increase in wait times and visitation denials at ADF. These denials may be indicative of an emerging pattern or practice at ADF, and perhaps in other detention facilities as well. For example, CIVIC has been denied tours under ICE’s Stakeholder Tour Directive by other California-based immigration detention facilities, specifically the Theo Lacy Facility on December 7, 2016, and the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center on December 9, 2016, and provided with no reasoning.
“ADF is notorious for placing unlawful restrictions on detention visitation,” said Rebecca Merton, National Visitation Network Program Coordinator for CIVIC. “But since Donald Trump’s election, we have witnessed a disturbing increase in visitation denials and restrictions.”
The complainants are people in immigration detention at ADF, as well as their attorneys, family members, and community members, who reported on visit denials or unreasonable waiting times to CIVIC during 2015 and 2016. One of the women, Maria Richards, who has been released from ADF recently, is stating her allegation publicly. Maria experienced a family visit denial on September 9, 2016. Her husband and two sons, aged 7 and 12 years old, drove three hours to visit her so that they could celebrate her husband’s birthday together. After waiting for two hours, GEO staff told her family that they could not have the visit, and so they began the three-hour drive back home, distraught that they were not able to see their wife and mother.
“My family and I were devastated,” said Richards, who was previously detained at ADF.
As evidenced by the individuals included in the complaint, ADF fails to meet the visitation standards outlined in its contract with ICE. Access to detention facilities is even more important now with the incoming new administration. Detention facilities must follow visitation policies so that families can visit their loved ones and communities are able to safeguard against abuse behind closed doors.
Merilie Robertson, a coordinator of the CIVIC-affiliated visitation program, Detention Witness, has documented several visit denials, observing an increasing frequency in recent months. “People in the Adelanto Detention Facility are very isolated and lonely. Everything should be done to make it easy for them to receive visitors. For family and friends to travel long distances and not be able to see their folks is unacceptable.”
Christina Fialho, a California attorney and the co-executive director of CIVIC, was prevented from meeting with her clients at ADF on two occasions in retaliation for her public advocacy against abuse at ADF. “When we see abuse in detention, it is our duty as Americans to speak up,” Fialho said. “By denying us access whenever we do expose abuse, ICE and GEO Group have 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.”
As part of a strategy to ensure that detention facilities such as ADF are required to abide by ICE’s visitation standards, advocates in California have re-introduced the Dignity Not Detention Act, which is co-sponsored by CIVIC and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC). The Dignity Not Detention Act directly addresses the findings of Homeland Security’s recent investigation of for-profit facilities, which found the mistreatment of immigrants in confinement to be systemic and especially stark in for-profit facilities, such as ADF. The Dignity Not Detention Act will prohibit local cities and counties from entering into new contracts with private, for-profit companies to operate immigration detention facilities in California. It also will require all detention facilities to uphold national humane treatment standards, including those on social and legal visitation.
CIVIC, which stands for Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement, is a national non-profit with a mission to end U.S. immigration detention, particularly privately-run detention facilities. In October, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) announced that it would be changing its name to CoreCIVIC in violation of CIVIC’s common-law trademark rights in the word mark CIVIC.
CIVIC is well-known to CCA. CIVIC has spoken out publicly against CCA on multiple occasions. CIVIC raised concerns about sexual abuse of immigrants detained at a CCA facility in San Diego. CIVIC drafted and co-sponsored legislation in California to end private immigration detention contracting in the state. And CIVIC advocated for the Department of Homeland Security to shift away from private immigration detention contracting, which they voted to do earlier this month.
“It is shocking that CCA would steal our name in what can only be construed as an effort to create undue confusion for immigrants in detention and exploit the goodwill associated with our name,” says Christina Fialho, co-founder/executive director of CIVIC.
All of the people CIVIC serves are immigrants, and many have limited English skills. Most are trying to navigate the detention system and complex immigration laws without legal counsel.
“There is an irony to the fact that a corporation in the business of running private prisons chooses to re-brand itself with the trademark of one of its most active critics and watchdogs. Whatever the motive, however, the new name is likely to result in confusion among the clients, supporters and regulators who already know the good work of CIVIC in the field of prisoner services and prison reform,” says Jonathan Kirsch, pro bono trademark counsel for CIVIC.
This is not the first time CCA has hijacked key phrases in the immigrant rights movement. Facing growing criticism from the public and the government, CCA and other private prison companies have invested in “alternatives to detention,” a term advocates have long used to refer to community-based programs that ensure immigrants are released from detention to the community and provided with the support they need to best fight their immigration case. CCA misappropriated this term, redefining it to mean lucrative programs that tag people with ankle monitors and burden them with excessive reporting requirements.
“We will not allow CCA to usurp our name or confuse immigrants in detention with this underhanded move to profit from our good work. CCA must stop using our trademark,” says Christina Mansfield, co-founder/executive director of CIVIC.
CCA’s CEO said that the company is changing its name to “give them access to new markets in states like California that have previously resisted private-prison firms.” CIVIC is headquartered in California.
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. www.endisolation.org
CIVIC has retained the Law Offices of Jonathan Kirsch and Kendall Brill & Kelly in this matter.
Today, as part of a broader #Fight4CA legislative package, Senator Lara (D-Bell Gardens) re-introduced the Dignity Not Detention Act, co-sponsored by Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC). This bill is in line with the Department of Homeland Security’s vote on December 1 to phase out the use of private contracting in its immigration detention operations.
The Dignity Not Detention Act directly addresses the findings of Homeland Security’s recent investigation of for-profit facilities. Homeland Security found the mistreatment of immigrants in confinement to be systemic and especially stark in for-profit facilities. And DHS voted to shift away from for-profit facilities.
In effect, the Dignity Not Detention Act will prohibit local cities and counties from entering into new contracts with private, for-profit companies to operate immigration detention facilities in California. It also will require all detention facilities to uphold national humane treatment standards.
This bill is especially timely during the transition to the incoming Trump administration. President-elect Trump has promised to expand the United States’ immigration enforcement apparatus as part of his initiative in his first 100 days to target 2-3 million immigrants he has inaccurately labelled “criminals.”
“Now more than ever, we must safeguard human rights in immigration detention,” said Christina Fialho, a California attorney and the co-executive director of CIVIC. “We are confident that the legislature and the Governor will make dignity not detention the law of the land this coming year.”
ICE currently contracts with private companies to run immigration detention facilities. People in detention include undocumented people, asylum-seekers, long-time green card holders, and others who are awaiting their immigration hearings. In California, there are 10 immigration detention facilities. Four are privately-run and hold approximately 85 percent of detained immigrants statewide. Approximately 100,000 people were detained in California’s detention facilities last year, that is about a quarter of the total detained immigrant population nationwide.
There have been consistent reports of human rights abuses in detention facilities, including physical and sexual abuse, poor access to healthcare, little access to legal counsel, and overuse of solitary confinement, and even death. LGBTQ immigrants have reported facing discrimination, harassment, and abuse due to their sexual orientation. In many of these instances, even the Department of Homeland Security has found these deaths were preventable. Tragically, the incidents often go unaddressed and victims have no recourse.
Private, for-profit immigration detention facilities present a host of problems. The facilities are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act and operate with little to no oversight. Many also operate under contract incentives where they are guaranteed a minimum number of immigrants in their facility at all times, ensuring their billion-dollar profits.
Currently, ICE has a set of Performance-Based National Detention Standards in place, but they lack any real enforcement mechanism. The Dignity Not Detention Act would be the first state-level bill to codify these standards into law, and provide redress for immigrants whose rights have been violated.
Individuals who have been detained speak out in support of the Dignity Not Detention Act:
“Immigration detention in the United States has become a financial market where people’s lives are being treated as profit. This bill is a clear step in the right direction,” said Sylvester Owino, an asylum seeker from Kenya who spent 9 years in immigration detention, primarily in California.
“While in detention, my religious freedoms were often violated. As a Muslim, my religion calls me to prayer at certain times of the day. Many times, officers forced me to choose between having breakfast or lunch and practicing my faith. I would always choose prayer, but this meant that many days I went hungry,” said Mohammed Kamal Deen Ilias, an asylum seeker from Ghana, who was detained at Adelanto Detention Facility from April 17, 2015, to February 5, 2016.
“Taking your dignity and pride is one thing, but taking away your dreams, what’s after that? In immigration detention, you feel helpless. You feel impotent to the system. You don’t know what’s going to happen next. Psychologically, you start deteriorating,” said Carlos Hidalgo, a father and grandfather of U.S. citizens, who was held at Adelanto Detention Facility for over a year.
“In the beginning, the Department of Homeland Security sent me together with my daughter to James Musick Facility. After two weeks, DHS separated me from my daughter. I was sent to the CCA facility in San Diego and then to the GEO facility in Adelanto. They didn’t tell me about my rights and made arbitrary decisions. They put me into segregation, abused and tortured me and compromised my physical integrity to a point that I was in need of a wheelchair,” said Petra Albrecht, a mother originally from Germany who was held in immigration detention for over 1 year.
Yesterday, the Homeland Security Advisory Council voted to shift away from private immigration detention facilities!
CIVIC submitted to the Council a 52-page report on why ICE should end for-profit immigration detention facilities. CIVIC also partnered with the Detention Watch Network, Grassroots Leadership, the National Immigrant Justice Center, American Immigration Lawyers Association, and the CARA Family Pro Bono Detention Project to gather over 40 affidavits from people who were at some point detained in a private immigration detention facility.
How did this result come about?
After the Department of Justice announced it would be phasing out private prisons, DHS appointed a subcommittee of the Homeland Security Advisory Council to review and write a report on whether DHS should end privatized immigration detention facilities. The Subcommittee report, which was in draft form, supported the continuation of private immigration detention facilities, although it did make recommendations for improving ICE detention oversight and monitoring. One HSAC Subcommittee member Marshall Fitz (with the Emerson Collective) dissented from this recommendation and recommended that “a measured but deliberate shift away from the private prison model is warranted.”
At yesterday’s public meeting, one HSAC member expressed her discomfort with the Subcommittee’s conclusion. She was backed up by several HSAC members. After some debate among the HSAC members, DHS Sec. Johnson proposed that the HSAC vote on the following three options: (1) approve the Subcommittee report as written; (2) approve the Subcommittee report’s recommendations on strengthening ICE detention oversight/monitoring but accept the Fitz dissent; and (3) disapprove the Subcommittee report.
We are disturbed and disheartened by the deep racial and cultural divisions that drove this election. We have seen remarkable levels of xenophobia, Islamophobia, misogyny, and racism.
To be clear, President-elect Donald Trump has declared war on immigrants and on the social justice movement as a whole.
But our movement and the progressive movement on all fronts will respond to Donald Trump with an unprecedented wave of energy, activism and power. Together, we will overcome.
Now more than ever, it is important to stand in solidarity with immigrants, LGBTQ individuals, Muslims, people of color. Now more than ever, it is important for our movement to connect more deeply with the broader movement to end mass-incarceration and all movements for progressive social change. It is time to mobilize and meet Trump’s hatred not with fear, but with resilience and love. It is important to look deep within ourselves and harness our individual and collective passion to respond to this crisis. As Secretary Clinton said this morning, “Never stop believing that fighting for what is right is worth it.”
We will continue fighting at the local, state and federal level for dignity not detention. We will continue to visit people in immigration detention. We will continue to protect our First Amendment right to bear witness to the reality of immigration enforcement by speaking out. We will develop a training on diversity, racism, and racial justice with our allies to make sure our movement understands the racism that drives our immigration detention system and that has driven the election of Donald Trump.
We will use all of our resources to prevent human and civil rights abuses in detention by continuing to be the eyes and ears of the detention system. We will dismantle the system from the inside out by elevating the voices and stories of those most directly impacted by the detention regime. We will protect against the form of collective amnesia that forgets that immigrants and diversity are what make this country great. And we will not allow people in immigration detention and their loved ones who suffer to be forgotten. We will continue to advocate for community-based alternatives to detention, and we will bring our most creative minds together to ensure that our mission is furthered over the next four years.
Now more than ever, we will need your support. We will need your voice. We will need your fearlessness. We will need YOU.
Trump’s vision for our country is dark and divisive. It is dangerous. But American democracy is stronger than any one person and its commitment to social justice is steadfast. We will continue to struggle for justice. We will win.
This moment calls for healing and unity. Please join us this Thursday in San Francisco for an evening of poetry, artwork, and music to begin the process of healing this country. And please visit our website to learn about all of the ways you can donate your time and resources to end our profit-driven immigration detention system.
Christina Fialho & Christina Mansfield
Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC)
Bridging the gap between legal and community advocacy, the Immigrant Rights Clinic (IRC) at the New York University School of Law, in partnership with Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) announces the launch of its website prolongeddetentionstories.org.
The website brings to life the people, institutions, and issues highlighted in a “stories” brief submitted to the Supreme Court by IRC and the Immigrant Defense Project in Jennings v. Rodriguez, a case about prolonged immigration detention. “Stories” briefs have been submitted to the Supreme Court for over a century and are designed to highlight the real-life consequences of the cases the Court decides.
Prolongeddetentionstories.org breaks new ground in legal advocacy by taking the stories off the page and making complex legal issues accessible to the public. Using Genius, an online annotation program, this interactive site breaks down the text of the brief with line-by-line annotations featuring photos, video, audio, research, and articles. Through this platform, readers can see and hear from the people directly affected by prolonged detention and learn more about the issues at stake.
Tina Shull, PhD and Soros Justice Fellow at CIVIC said of the project, “It is so important when talking about these issues to remember that this case is about people. This website helps to center the people who will be affected by this decision.”
Jennings is a challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union to the Obama Administration’s practice of jailing immigrants – many of whom will ultimately win their immigration cases – for months and even years without the basic due process of a bond hearing to consider whether their detention is justified. It will be argued on November 30, 2016.
Alina Das, co-author of the amicus brief and co-director of IRC said, “Prolonged immigration detention has a devastating impact on families and communities across the United States, and is bad for the immigration system as a whole. But this reality has gotten lost in all of the heated political rhetoric around immigration. We want to make sure that both the Supreme Court and the public have an accurate understanding of the consequences of Jennings, and this website is an important part of this effort.”
Patrick Thaxter, a long-time lawful permanent resident featured in the brief and the website, was held in immigration detention for three years without a bond hearing. He was finally released in June 2016. He said, “What happened to me and my family should never happen to anyone. It is difficult for me to talk about this time in my life but it is important that it is out there.” For more information, visit prolongeddetentionstories.org.
On September 14th, CIVIC joined forced with over 340 immigrant rights, faith-based and civil- and labor-rights organizations to deliver a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Jeh Johnson calling for the government to end its use of private prison companies to incarcerate immigrants.
Our letter documents concerns over the use of private immigration detention facilities, and points to the California State Legislature’s passage of the Dignity Not Detention Act, S.B. 1289, to limit its own municipalities’ involvement in private immigration detention contracting.
We are calling on DHS to use its resources to create a plan to end the agency’s entanglement with private prison companies.
By: Katie Dingeman-Cerda
Food bears significance beyond nourishing our bodies. It connects people across generations, cultures, and history. Faculty and students from the University of Denver recently partnered with the CIVIC-affiliated nonprofit Casa de Paz to pilot a bilingual English-Spanish cookbook featuring the stories of local migrants. Casa de Paz, directed by Sarah Jackson, offers solidarity with migrants detained in the private detention facility in Aurora by facilitating visitations and pen pals, as well as free housing and support for families torn apart by detention.
Students from the university course I teach, Crimmigration: The Criminalization of Immigration, spent a day with a formerly detained migrant serviced by Casa de Paz. The students went grocery shopping and prepared a meal that held special meaning to their designated migrant “chef.” The meals included John’s “Favorite Fufu” which brings him back to Ghana, José’s “Costillitas de Puerco” which reminds him of a lost love, and Erik’s “Family Style Citrus Chicken & Vegetables” which he ate as a child as a second-generation Chinese migrant in Mexico. In sharing food and stories, the project humanized migrants whose identities are lost amidst often hostile political rhetoric.
The students also learned about the power of borders, citizenship, and criminalization. They heard that Lupe’s “Spicy Chicken & Rice” was made in memory of her mother who died from cancer but whose funeral she could not attend in Mexico due to her undocumented status. Jose was paralyzed in detention after digesting a piece of metal in food described as “trash” and receiving inadequate medical care (they only provided him ibuprofen). “Costillitas de Puerco” was a meal for which José longed as he languished in detention for three years for crimes fraudulently committed in his name. After meeting Erik, the students learned he was to be deported and separated from his U.S. citizen wife and three children. The students have been raising awareness in their networks and they plan to attend Eriks’ removal hearing.
With guidance from James Beard Award-winning soul food author Adrian Miller, the students produced cookbook pages featuring migrants’ stories and recipes, and presented their findings in a potluck celebration at the University of Denver. Students from the university’s Spanish program are translating the pages under the guidance of Professor Zulema Lopez. Sarah Jackson is continuing the cookbook project with community and student groups in Denver. Once the book published, all proceeds will fund programming at Casa de Paz.
For more information on Casa de Paz: http://www.casadepazcolorado.org/
To join Katie and CIVIC in creating the second community-engaged cookbook in this series, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Georgia has 6 immigration detention facilities, and the immigration detention population is the fourth largest in the country. Georgia also is home to the largest immigration detention facility in the country, the Stewart Detention Center, run by the publically-traded Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) holding over 2,000 people each day.
Immigration detention is a civil form of confinement, and thus, detained migrants lack many of the safeguards of the criminal justice system. They have no right to a court-appointed attorney, a free phone call, or a speedy trial. While 46% of migrants are transferred away from family and friends, 84% lack attorneys. But in Georgia, this isolation is far worse; for example, only 6 percent of people detained at Stewart are represented by counsel because there is not a single immigration attorney in the town of Lumpkin and the facility is 150 miles from Atlanta. Many languish without visits from their family or the outside community because of the remote location of the facility and limited visitation booths. In many of the visitation booths, including ones reserved for legal visits, the phones used to communicate through the Plexiglas are faulty.
In March, CIVIC signed a letter written by the Southern Poverty Law Center to ICE, calling for CCA to 1) install and make available video teleconferencing (VTC) machines for detained immigrants to communicate with counsel; 2) designate duty officials to allow counsel to schedule calls with detained immigrants; 3) efficiently schedule meetings for immigrants in solitary confinement or administrative segregation; and 4) promptly replace faulty telephones.
CIVIC is working toward building a country without immigration detention, especially for-profit detention facilities such as the Stewart Detention Center. Until we achieve our goal, we will continue to visit and monitor detention facilities in Georgia and beyond. To join us, sign up for our mailing list, become a volunteer with our hotline in Georgia, and check out our affiliated visitation and hospitality program in Georgia.