Report: Immigration Detainees Get Inadequate Medical Care in California Facilities

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Immigration detainees at the facility in Adelanto, California, which houses an average of 1,100 immigrants in custody pending a decision in their immigration cases or awaiting deportation.  (John Moore/Getty Images)

During the last three years locally run jails and privately operated prisons housed more than 74,000 immigrant detainees in California, including individuals as young as 13 and as old as 95, from over 150 different countries. Detainees were held for more than 50 days on average, with the longest stay at a single facility exceeding four years.

That's according to a new report from the state Department of Justice, which found detainees' experiences varied drastically, but there were common problems across facilities:

  • Prolonged periods of confinement without breaks, with some detainees confined in cells for up to 22 hours a day.
  • Significant language barriers, which affect legal and medical care.
  • Difficulties accessing medical and mental health care, increasing the risk of a major incident.
  • Barriers to external communication, limiting contact with family and support systems.
  • Barriers to legal representation.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced the results of the investigation Tuesday. The full report can be read here.

The report was released under a measure, Assembly Bill 103, passed in 2017 that gave the state attorney general powers to inspect immigration detention facilities, with full access to immigrants, staff and relevant documents. AB 103 established a 10-year period in which the state Department of Justice reports on the conditions of detention and standards of care for immigration detainees; this is the first report under the law.

"We intend to keep visiting these facilities and sharing our findings over the course of the next several years. We are confident that our effort will continue to be a source of information for the public and for policymakers in California as we work to promote fair and humane treatment of everyone in the immigration system," said Becerra.

The Trump administration is seeking to overturn the law, and two others. This summer, a federal judge in Sacramento denied that request, but the federal government has appealed.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) holds more than a dozen contracts for detention services with local governments in California, to provide guaranteed housing for detainees as needed. But the federal agency does not use all of the facilities to hold detainees. The majority of immigrant detainees in the state are held at private prisons in Southern California.

To complete this report, state DOJ investigators conducted one-day visits at seven facilities: Adelanto ICE Processing Center, Imperial Regional Detention Facility, James A. Musick facility, Mesa Vere ICE Processing Facility, Otay Mesa Detention Center, Rio Consumes Correction Center and the Yuba County Jail. The DOJ staff also more comprehensively reviewed three public facilities: Yolo County Juvenile Detention Facility, Theo Lacy Facility in Orange County and West County Detention Facility in Contra Costa County (before it was closed).

However, not all facilities worked with investigators.

The Adelanto ICE Processing Center is the second largest immigration detention center in the United States. The facility can hold up to 1,940 people and is run by GEO GROUP, a private company. State DOJ investigators asked ICE for a two-week site visit, and to speak with staff and detainees. But investigators only received a several hour tour, and were unable to interview staff or detainees.

For years detainees and advocates have complained about conditions at Adelanto, while federal inspectors have detailed significant health and safety risks. In 2017, detainees filed two class action lawsuits against GEO Group. And last year, the Office of Inspector General found that detainees did not receive timely or adequate medical care, expressed concern that investigators found nooses in detainees' cells and outlined overly restrictive segregation standards.

GEO, which runs the facility in Adelanto, responded with a statement saying they will continue to work with government partners. "While we’ve not yet fully reviewed the report issued today by the California Attorney General’s Office, we look forward to doing so. In all of the facilities that we manage on behalf of the federal government, including those in California, we are deeply committed to delivering high-quality, culturally responsive services in safe and humane environments," read the statement.


Adelanto isn't the only facility that's been found to repeatedly violate ICE's own detention standards.

Federal inspectors, grand juries and immigrants rights advocates have long criticized conditions at many of the facilities throughout California, especially at privately run facilities. Inspectors have found inadequate medical care, excessive use of solitary confinement and other serious violations.

And in a separate report released Tuesday, California's state auditor says cities and counties failed to properly monitor the facilities in their locales.

Becerra noted that in some places changes have already been made because of the DOJ's reporting, including adopting new training and hiring more mental health staff. "Some of these facilities have already implemented changes based on our review," he said.

Last summer, ICE removed all of its immigration detainees from the West County Detention Facility in Richmond, after allegations of misconduct led Contra Costa County to end its contract.

Congressman Mark DeSaulnier said the report released today corroborated allegations of mistreatment of undocumented detainees. "The Attorney General's report affirms what we had long suspected — West County Detention Facility did not have the resources or the training necessary to properly care for the immigrants in its care," he said. "The residents of Contra Costa deserve to know that this was happening in the their backyard, and this report, combined with expert press reporting, finally sheds that light."

ICE, however, contested the depiction.

"U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is committed to providing for the welfare of all those entrusted to its custody and to ensuring all detainees are treated in a humane and professional manner," said a spokesperson. "Accordingly, all facilities that house ICE detainees must meet rigorous performance standards, which specify detailed requirements for virtually every facet of the detention environment."

The Contra Costa Office of the Sheriff also noted it had reviewed the report and that it cooperated during the DOJ visits, as well as investigated allegations previously when they were raised. "We immediately launched a thorough investigation after allegations were raised by a small group of female ICE detainees out of the over 5,000 detainees held in our facility over the past several years," said Jimmy Lee, the Sheriff's spokesperson. "While we found their allegations to be largely unfounded, measures were put into place to improve our policies and staffing. We no longer have a contract to hold ICE detainees."

ICE cannot sign new contracts with local governments in California to house immigrant detainees because of the same 2017 law that mandated these state inspections.