A federal judge has ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to immediately begin decreasing the detainee population at a California detention facility that currently jails 1,300 people—and where advocates have warned crowded conditions could quickly turn the privately operated site into a COVID-19 tinderbox.
U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter ruled officials “shall immediately reduce the detainee population at the Adelanto Immigration and Customs Enforcement Processing Center to such a level that would allow the remaining detainees to maintain a social distance of 6 feet from each other at all times and at all places,” including while eating and sleeping. The judge warned if officials “fail to comply” with requirements, “the court will consider the immediate release of class members.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Foundation of Southern California and law firm Latham & Watkins LLP said in their lawsuit that as many as eight people at a time are crammed into one 8x10 cell at the GEO Group facility. “Detainees in Adelanto share toilets, sinks, and showers with others in their cells and pods, without disinfection after each use,” court documents said. “The showers are consistently dirty and infrequently sanitized,” and detainees have not been supplied with hand sanitizer, gloves, or masks.
Hatter ruled detainees must be provided with masks, gloves, and soap at no charge to them as officials reduce the population by May 4, recommending they begin with people over 55, people with medical conditions, and people with no criminal record.
“The judge ordered that ICE must reduce the population of the center in three ways,” the ACLU said. ”Releasing selected detainees with or without conditions of release,” “deporting selected detainees who have final deportation orders and have exhausted all appeals,” or “transferring selected detainees to other detention facilities where they can maintain social distancing.”
Knowing this agency’s history of intentional cruelty—like sweeping up teens on the day they turn 18 and throwing them into an adult detention center in the middle of an outbreak—it won’t be a complete shock if it prioritizes deportation over releasing people to homes, communities, and local organizations. ICE should release them, period, and in the meantime all detainees must have access to what they need to stay as safe as possible, as the court has instructed.
“Holding people in civil immigration detention in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic without taking basic steps to protect them from infection from this deadly virus from is, as the court found ‘inconsistent with contemporary standards of human decency,’” ACLU SoCal senior attorney Jessica Bansal said. “We are relieved that people detained at Adelanto will now receive the protections for their lives and health that every human being deserves.”