Filed under: Action, Immigration, Incarceration, Southwest
Report from Perilous Chronicle on hunger strike at ICE processing center in Adelanto, California.
A series of hunger strikes have occurred in the Adelanto ICE Processing Center involving an estimated 100-180 detainees. The strikers are protesting the lack of basic sanitation and their continued confinement during a global pandemic that continues to claim the lives of incarcerated people across the country. Adelanto is owned and operated by GEO Group and is currently under contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The initial hunger strike began on April 5 in Unit W3-A, B and D and involved 120-180 detainees. The strike ended some time later that week after the local news broadcast a statement from ICE denying the existence of a hunger strike. After seeing the coverage, the detainees called off this initial strike.
According to The American Prospect, on April 10, dozens of detainees in Unit W4 began a separate hunger strike and commissary boycott. Over the course of the next 5 days, the strike spread throughout the unit, involving more than 100 detainees.
ICE Spokesperson Alexx R. Pons confirmed that two detainees are currently hunger striking at Adelanto. ICE does not recognize hunger strikes until a detainee has missed 9 consecutive meals. Pons denied all allegations of lack of sanitation at the facility.
According to Lizbeth Mateo, a Los Angeles-based immigration attorney whose client is detained at the facility, the initial hunger strike started after two detainees were transported to the hospital after exhibiting symptoms of Covid-19.
Mateo also explained the lack of basic sanitation precautions her client had reported at the facility. “My client was very concerned because there were no precautions being taken by the guards, by the staff at Adelanto” she explained. “Some of them would come into the pods and have contact with the detainees without any mask, without any gloves. There was a lack of soap, a lack of shampoo, things they could use to wash their hands or even shower. The staff and guards at Adelanto were not cleaning the common areas as regularly as they should. And they were still expected to go eat in a large group and so social distancing was not possible for them.”
According to The American Propect, GEO Group staff met with representatives of the strikers to negotiate. This staff members included the warden and a lieutenant, as well as the facility nurse and head of psychology. The negotiation did not satisfying the strikers, who have decided to continue their strike. One detainee who spoke with The American Prospect did state, however, that guards who enter his pod now wear masks.
Despite this small improvement, supporters still fear that the lives of detainees at Adelanto and across the country are at risk. “It is very frustrating to know that my client is still detained,” said Mateo. “I have two clients who are detained in an immigration facility now who should be home, should be with their families. It’s just a matter of time if this continues like this, for more people to die in those facilities. As an immigration attorney we’ve already seen a lot of human rights violations against out clients. Doing this to them, this is the last thing their families need. We’re doing their best to get them released but ICE is still trying to do business as usually as if this pandemic wasn’t killing people. Some people who don’t even have any medical conditions.”
ICE detainees hold a banner that reads: “Help us get out of here. We are afraid of getting infected. We are more than 60 people. There is COVID-19 here in ICE Detention Adelanto CA.” (Photo Source: The American Prospect)
Perilous Chronicle spoke with Marcos Duran, a detainee at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center about the hunger strike and conditions at the facility.
PC: Could you tell us a little about the current situation in the detention center in Adelanto California?
MD: What happened is that on Monday here in Adelanto, we began a hunger strike. However, in the Tuesday news, there was no information regarding the hunger strike here in Adelanto. I don’t know if something changed because the guards that day were listening. Afterwards we spoke with lawyers and they told us that this was not good, because we are prisoners that nobody cares about. Also, the guards here don’t wear masks regardless of the virus. We know it is contagious and that is difficult for us. Here, there is not much cleaning being done. They clean the tables once a day, and sometimes they run out of soap. We don’t have soap; we don’t have shampoo. To eat, they put approximately 50-60 of us at once in the dining room. The spaces are very small. In the sleeping quarters, sometimes up to eight people sleep in one room. Only one bathroom for 8 people. For me that is not right.
How many people participated in the strike?
There were about 180 people from three pods, A, C and D.
What are you all demanding?
What happens is that here we run out of soap and shampoo. If we don’t have it, they might give it to us the next day. Since there are many of us, we often run out of soap and shampoo. We don’t have any. Also, since we are many people, here it is like a time bomb which at any moment can explode, and all of us will become ill. After getting sick, it is possible that some of us can lose our lives.
Has anything changed since the strike?
It’s still the same! Everything is still the same!
Perilous Chronicle also spoke with Lizbeth Mateo, Esq., a Los Angeles-based immigration attorney. Read the full interview below:
PC: Tell us about the hunger strike that happened at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center?
LM: My client is currently detained Adelanto ICE Processing Center and I received a call from him last Monday in which he essentially told me that he had joined a hunger strike with about 60 other people that were housed in the same pod as him because they were concerned that they were being potentially exposed to Covid-19. They heard from other detainees that there had been at least two people taken to the hospital a couple days prior to the hunger strike starting and those individuals exhibited symptoms of Covid-19.
My client was very concerned because there were no precautions being taken by the guards, by the staff at Adelanto. Some of them would come into the pods and have contact with the detainees without any mask, without any gloves. There was a lack of soap, a lack of shampoo, things they could use to wash their hands or even shower. The staff and guards at Adelanto were not cleaning the common areas as regularly as they should. And they were still expected to go eat in a large group and so social distancing was not possible for them.
PC: Do you know what their demands were?
LM: They all wanted to get released. They wanted to go home and get to be with their families. I think one of the most important asks they had was for the facility to take steps to make sure that they were not being exposed to the virus. There was a lack of information. Like I said, they were not provided gloves or masks or anything that would allow them to protect themselves and protect others. More importantly, there was no space for them to exercise social distancing. They knew what the CDC had suggested; they’d been watching the news. There was just no way of doing all those things, following all those recommendations in a detention center, so they were asking for the ability to practice social distancing. And if that meant having people released, then people should be released. But at the very least they wanted to have the tools to be able to wash their hands, clean the areas that were supposed to be cleaned on a regular basis. And have access to shampoo and soap, which regularly run out so they will go for days without any shampoo, without any soap. There was no hand no hand santizier, no wipes, to clean their hands or just the area. Where they would eat or sit and wait for time to pass, essentially.
PC: Do you know how if the hunger strike is over and if so, how long it lasted?
LM: I think it went on for about a week or so. I think they decided to start eating again. What my client was very frustrated about was that they kept watching the news and they could see reports of the detention center and ICE essentially saying “there’s no hunger strike happening, things are OK here.” So they tried to pressure the detention center, the staff and facility to provide them with the things they were asking for, but I don’t think they were successful. I my client today if anything had changed, if they were now providing them with soap and hand sanitizer to clean the common areas and he said no, but that now they were eating. At least he was eating.
PC: Did the prison respond with retaliatory measures?
LM: I know that he said a couple of people that he knew were transferred, but he didn’t know if they had been transferred just to a diff pod or to a diff facility. I heard from another colleague that some detainees were being transferred to other facilities like in Texas and I asked my client if he’d seem massive transfers and he said he’d only seen a couple people but he couldn’t tell me if they’d been transferred to a different facility. He did hear a rumor that there were other detainees in a different pod who were being transferred to other facilities.
He actually had a hearing today, so I think he began eating yesterday to be as present as possible during the hearing today.
He didn’t specify if there were other pods still continuing with the hunger strike. There were three…he was in pod A and A, C, and D were on hunger strike. D was getting food delivered to their cell because that is where at least 2 ppl believed to have Covid-19 were being held. And only one pod B that was still going to the kitchen to eat as of last week.
He wanted to make sure that people knew that there was a hunger strike because when the hunger strike began the media reached out to the detention center staff and they essentially said there’s no hunger strike. He thought if people don’t know, we can’t win. We can’t successfully pressure this facility to do the right thing. He wanted to make sure the media understood that they were fighting and they were doing the best they could to keep themselves safe because the detention center was essentially not doing anything.
PC: Do you have anything you’d like to add from your perspective?
LM: It is very frustrating to know that my client is still detained. I have two clients who are detained in an immigration facility now who should be home, should be with their families. I don’t have access to them and what they tell me about the lack of basic precautions, lack of care for their health and well-being, is very frustrating. It’s just a matter of time if this continues like this, for more people to die in those facilities. As an immigration attorney we’ve already seen a lot of human rights violations against out clients. Doing this to them, this is the last thing their families need. We’re doing their best to get them released but ICE is still trying to do business as usually as if this pandemic wasn’t killing people. Some people who don’t even have any medical conditions.
Lizbeth Mateo, Esq., Immigration Attorney, Personal Interview, April 14, 2020.
Marcos Duran, ICE Detainee, Personal Interview, April 16, 2020.
“‘This Virus Kills Way Too Many People.’ Hunger-Striking ICE Detainees Demand Answers“, The American Prospect, April 17, 2020.
Alexx R. Pons, Public Affairs Specialist (Spokesperson). U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Email Interview, April 18, 2020.