Nicaraguan immigrant held in ICE custody dies; CIVIC calls for independent investigation

Screen Shot 2017-03-28 at 5.31.24 PMCIVIC is calling for an independent investigation after a Nicaraguan man, Osmar Epifanio Gonzalez-Gadba, 32, died while in U.S. immigration detention after months of incarceration at a privately-run detention center that has been accused of medical neglect in the past.

Mr. Gonzalez-Gadba was detained on December 29, 2016, near Otay Mesa in Southern California.  He was transferred to and was detained at the Adelanto Detention Facility, a facility run by GEO Group.  ICE reported that Mr. Gonzalez-Gadba was transferred to the hospital from the Adelanto Detention Facility on March 22nd, after GEO staff conducting routine evening rounds at the detention center found him hanging in his cell.  Medical staff at Adelanto called 911, and according to ICE, began efforts to resuscitate him.  Gonzalez-Gadba was rushed to the hospital’s intensive care unit and placed on life support.

Gonzalez-Gadba never regained consciousness.  He passed away early Tuesday morning with the preliminary cause of death being heart failure resulting from asphyxiation.

“The Adelanto Detention Facility is known for its substandard medical care.  Mr. Gonzalez-Gadba’s death should be fully investigated to ensure that his death could not have been prevented,” said Christina Fialho, an attorney and the co-founder/co-executive director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC).  

In previous statements released by ICE regarding apparent suicide victims, ICE usually immediately mentions that the suicide victim did not seek medical attention.  However, ICE made no such comment regarding Mr. Gonzalez-Gadba’s death.  Fernando Dominguez Valdivia’s death in 2012 at the Adelanto Detention Facility was deemed preventable by the U.S. Office of Detention Oversight.  CIVIC also has documented disturbing circumstances around the death of Raul Ernesto Morales-Ramos in 2015 at the Adelanto Detention Facility.

Mr. Gonzalez-Gadba is the fifth person to die in immigration detention in 2017 according to ICE, and he is the fourth person to die at the Adelanto Detention Facility.  

Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Mr. Gonzalez-Gadba.

CIVIC Wins Commitment from ICE for Continued Visitation Access

ICE Responds to CIVIC’s Federal Complaint with “Strong Desire” to Facilitate Continued Access to Immigration Detention Facilities

HuffPo_PicCommunity Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC) is pleased that ICE has committed to facilitate access for community visitation programs for people isolated in immigration detention. ICE’s statement was made in response to CIVIC’s federal complaint filed on March 15th with the Office for Civil Rights & Civil Liberties within the Department of Homeland Security detailing access denials and restrictions in violation of federal policy at 14 immigration detention facilities in Arizona, California, Virginia, Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Texas. CIVIC submitted this complaint in addition to a letter signed by 441 organizations and individuals urging ICE to uphold its commitments to transparency and public access to the detention system.

Within 24 hours, acting ICE Director Thomas Homan responded, indicating that “ICE appreciates the work of CIVIC and other community-based visitation programs” and ICE has a “strong desire” to continue to facilitate our access to immigration detention facilities.  Homan promised to send CIVIC and those who co-signed the letter a response after further review of our complaint.  We believe that this prompt response is a sign that ICE is unable to ignore the widespread concerns over restricted access to immigration detention facilities, which has received coverage in publications including traditionally conservative outlets such as the Washington Times.

We hope to see ICE back up this commitment by enforcing the Stakeholder Access Directive, ICE’s PBNDS on Visitation, and ensuring that visitation programs and family members are allowed continued access at all U.S. immigration detention facilities.  As detailed in CIVIC’s complaint, community visitation programs have faced unwarranted restricted access to immigration detention facilities in recent months. As Christina Fialho, CIVIC’s co-founder/executive director, notes in a Huffington Post article about the complaint, holding immigration detention facilities accountable requires that the public continue to have access to them. With a record number of immigrants being detained under the Trump Administration, it is now more critical than ever that family and community members are not faced with restrictions when visiting people in immigration detention.

While ICE’s response is a welcome development, CIVIC will remain vigilant to ensure that ICE lives up to its commitments and that visitation programs can operate without undue restrictions.
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. Join the movement at

ICE Terminates Immigration Detention Contract for the Santa Ana City Jail

Screen Shot 2017-02-24 at 9.22.58 AMYesterday, ICE gave the City of Santa Ana 90 days notice that it will be terminating its existing immigration detention agreement.  This decision comes a year and 28 days after CIVIC filed a federal complaint against the City and ICE for unlawful and degrading strip searches of transgender and cisgender immigrant women at the Santa Ana City Jail.  Within days of our complaint, we had collected nearly 60,000 signatures in protest of the jail’s unjust practices, and we had defeated along with our partners a city proposal to expand immigration detention in the city.

In the struggle to help the City of Santa Ana become a more welcoming environment to its largely immigrant population, we worked with the City Manager’s office over the last year to develop a stronger understanding of the reality of immigration detention.  In December, the City took a huge step forward by becoming a sanctuary city and decreasing the maximum number of people in immigration detention in Santa Ana.
In its announcement yesterday to end its contract with the City, ICE cited as a reason for the contract termination this recent action by the City to decrease the number of incarceration cells at the Santa Ana City Jail for people in immigration detention.  
“We have been deeply concerned about the well-being of people detained at the Santa Ana City Jail.  We continue to be concerned about those who will be transferred from the Santa Ana City Jail to another facility.  We urge ICE to release all 74 individuals detained currently at the Santa Ana City Jail.  If ICE is unwilling to do this, we urge the Office for Civil Rights & Civil Liberties at DHS to intervene and ensure the release of all asylum seekers eligible for parole,” said Christina Fialho, an attorney and co-executive director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), a nonprofit that visits and monitors immigration detention facilities nationwide and advocates for an end to the detention system.
We hope the City of Santa Ana will take this opportunity to not only free itself from the immigration detention system, but also to invest in developing community-based alternatives to detention.  The City issued an RFQ last year to study community-based alternatives to immigration detention.  And the City now has the ability to serve as a true model for the nation, free from the profit-driven motives of the immigration detention system.
“The Trump Administration has declared war on immigrants with an expanding detention and deportation force.  But we are now ready to defend ourselves here in Santa Ana.  Immigrants and their allies in Santa Ana and beyond have been fighting against the immigration detention system for the last three decades.  CIVIC has eyes and ears inside this unjust system, and no matter where our community members are detained, we will be there to hold the federal government and individual officials accountable until all immigrants are free,” said Fialho.
You can read more in this Los Angeles Times article.

California limits video-only visits!

Screen Shot 2017-02-17 at 10.49.21 AM
Here is some great news out of California.  Huge shout out to CIVIC’s Christina Mansfield for being at the forefront of this movement to stop video-only visitation in county jails, including many immigration detention facilities.  
Last year, CIVIC co-sponsored legislation in California that was just a signature away from outlawing video-only visitation policies.  Since our bill was vetoed, we have been working with the Board of State and Community Corrections to prevent more video-only visitation through the passage of a regulation.  And we are excited to let you know that we along with our many partners have succeeded.  Great work team!
Read More Here:

California limits video-only visits for county jail inmates

Associated Press , KXTV 8:51 AM. PST February 17, 2017

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – California regulators are pushing back against what had been a growing movement to end in-person visits in county jails.

The Board of State and Community Corrections voted Thursday to require that future jails include space for face-to-face visits.

The board says five of the state’s 58 counties have no in-person visits. Five more counties have no in-person visits in at least one jail, and 10 counties are building jails that will have no room for in-person contact.

The new regulation, adopted on a 7-2 vote, applies only to future jails, not the ones under construction.

Sheriffs have been shifting to video visitation that can save space, requires fewer employees and deters smuggling.

But the board and state lawmakers are encouraging personal visits that they say are healthier and promote rehabilitation.

Copyright 2017 KXTV

CIVIC Files Civil Rights Complaint Alleging Frequent Denial of Visits at Adelanto Since Trump’s Election

Adelanto Detention Facility Visitation Denial

PRESS CONTACT: Rebecca Merton, Visitation Network Program Coordinator, CIVIC | 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.

protest pic“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.

Read a copy of the complaint here.

Private Prison Company CCA Has Stolen the Name of a Nonprofit that Advocates Against the Use of Private Prisons

stopccaCCA is Violating the Trademark Rights of CIVIC with the company’s new name CoreCIVIC

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.

CIVIC has retained the Law Offices of Jonathan Kirsch and Kendall Brill & Kelly in this matter.

California Introduces Bill to End For-Profit Immigration Detention in 2017

grtscfUnder Trump’s Impending Expansion of Immigration Detention, Senator Lara Re-Introduces Dignity Not Detention Act to End For-Profit Immigration Detention in California

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.

DHS Votes to Shift Away from Private Detention Facilities


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.  

Three quarters of HSAC voted in favor of option (2).  In other words, they voted for shifting away from using private, for-profit immigration detention facilities!  With Trump coming into office next month, we will continue to fight to end private immigration detention facilities throughout the United States.

CIVIC’s Statement on the Presidential Election

Drawing by Marcela Castro, a mother and friend who survived detention

Drawing by Marcela Castro, a mother and friend who survived detention

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.

In solidarity,

Christina Fialho & Christina Mansfield

Co-Founders/Executive Directors

Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC)