‘Repeated violations’: California lawmakers call on DHS to end three ICE contracts in state

‘Repeated violations’: California lawmakers call on DHS to end three ICE contracts in state

Two dozen House Democrats representing California are calling on the Biden administration to terminate Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contracts for two private prisons and county jail in the state that have years-long records of anti-immigrant abuses and negligence under their belts. The legislators, led by House Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship Chair Zoe Lofgren, are joined in the call by more than 60 organizations in the state.

“For years, under multiple administrations, these facilities have been operating in a substandard manner, resulting in repeated violations of the ICE standards and the excessive waste of federal funds,” legislators told Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. One of the three listed facilities, CoreCivic’s Otay Mesa Detention Facility, was where Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia had been held. He was the first person to die of COVID-19 while in ICE custody.

“Otay Mesa has also been publicly condemned for poor conditions and mistreatment of detainees,” legislators wrote. They noted a recent DHS inspector general report finding the facility “failed to respond to detainee grievances and complaints in a timely manner and failed to forward reports of staff misconduct to ICE, as required by policy, unless a detainee filed an appeal.” That report confirmed that the facility had at one point tried to force detained immigrants into signing a liability form protecting the site if they wanted a protective face mask. No signature, no mask.

The inspector general report followed a surprise visit earlier this spring. Otay Mesa failed that inspection, its second time failing an inspection since November 2020. The two other facilities named by legislators, GEO Group’s Adelanto Detention Facility and Yuba County Jail, are no less miserable.

“Last year, the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, a federal court found that ‘[t]he conditions of confinement at Adelanto are inconsistent with contemporary standards of human decency,’” legislators wrote. “The court cited serious overcrowding, with up to 118 women sharing three showers, beds placed inches apart, and filthy conditions that placed individual detained in the facility at serious risk of contracting COVID-19. Shortly thereafter, the EPA found that the facility violated federal law by misusing disinfectant spray that can cause serious bodily harm if swallowed, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin.”

That report, issued in March, said HDQ Neutral had already been used at Adelanto for nearly a decade. Its use by the prison increased amid the pandemic. “Migrants who participated in the ‘volunteer’ work program were given HDQ Neutral in 32-ounce spray bottles and mop buckets, often without safety labels or instructions attached, without being required to wear the necessary protective equipment when handling the industrial pesticide,” Earthjustice said. “Only one pair of goggles was provided for all the detained workers in each unit.” The Environmental Protection Agency warned GEO Group about its irresponsible use of chemicals at a second facility in Washington State just a few months later.

Yuba, meanwhile, is the last county jail in the state still holding an ICE contract. Organizations supporting a termination to ICE’s contracts note that the site “has been operating under a court-ordered consent decree since 1979 due to numerous constitutional violations and lack of adequate care. Only one person, Ricardo, remains detained in ICE custody at the Yuba County Jail.” Yuba (along with Mesa Verde) has been at the center of class action litigation due to inhumane conditions amid the pandemic.

ICE is also abusing immigrants at huge benefit to private prison companies. “The contracts to run these facilities are designed in such a way—particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the September 21, 2021 DHS enforcement priorities—to guarantee government waste,” legislators note. “ICE pays an estimated $1.34 million dollars every day on unused beds through guaranteed minimum contracts, such as the ones with Otay Mesa and Adelanto.” They note that from April 2020 to March 2021, CoreCivic reaped $22 million for used beds.

Legislators (full list of signatories here) say that should DHS go forward with ending these contracts (and it should), “it is also imperative that detainees that do not fit within the September 21, 2021 DHS enforcement priorities are not merely transferred to another facility, but are instead released and if necessary, placed in a case management program or other alternative to detention.” As we’ve seen in New Jersey, rather than releasing immigrants detained at facilities that are soon ending their contracts, ICE has been transferring them elsewhere.

Organizations write in their joint statement that despite lower detention numbers in the state, “California has the fourth-largest detained population in the country. It is time for California to lead the charge to reject immigration detention nationally. Organizations across the state welcome the call to end the contracts of Yuba, Adelanto, and Otay Mesa. Yet, it is a collective realization that this is only the beginning in our fight to ensure that we are free from all cages.”

From Daily Kos at Read More. This article is republished from DailyKos under an open content license. Read the original article at DailyKos.

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