Immigrant detainees stage hunger strike at Adelanto facility

Immigrant detainees at the Adelanto Detention Facility, a privately run center that has been criticized for providing inadequate care, are staging a hunger strike to bring attention to conditions there.

Their demands: adequate medical care, an end to what they describe as abusive treatment, and access to edible, nutritious food.

The hunger strike began in the facility’s west wing on Thursday, March 14, when some 150 men refused to go to the cafeteria, said Lizbeth Abeln, immigrant detention coordinator for the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice. That led to a brief lockdown, with detainees kept in their immediate areas and visits with attorneys and families cancelled. She said some some detainees still were not being allowed visitors as of March 19.

It was unclear how many are still participating in the hunger strike, but the number is believed to be at least 100, Abeln said.

“They’re trying to highlight the abuses… The guards at GEO are not respecting their basic human rights,” Abeln said, referring to GEO Group, Inc., the company that owns and runs the facility.

The immigrant detainees were particularly upset this week because a young detainee was beaten up by at least one guard and he did not receive immediate medical treatment, according to Abeln.

A spokeswoman for GEO referred questions to ICE, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Lori Haley, a spokeswoman for ICE, said she could not reply to the allegation that a teen detainee was injured by a guard without knowing the names of the people involved.

The strike comes on the heels of reports that blasted the facility for its care – or lack of care – of people who are in detention while they await for their cases to be processed in immigration court. (Detention centers like Adelanto’s house people who crossed into the United States illegally, and others who arrived legally, many of them seeking asylum.)

The Adelanto center, which can house up to 2,000 detainees, has long faced criticism for how it treats its detainees. Last year, federal investigators found nooses fashioned from bedsheets in some 20 cells. There was at least one suicide, by hanging, in 2017, and five other deaths, some due to medical neglect, according to the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice.

A report released earlier this month by Disability Rights California, a non-profit legal watchdog group, found that people running Adelanto under report the number of suicide attempts at the center, and that detainees are subject to “punitive, prison-like conditions that harm people with disabilities.” The report also found that Adelanto detainees get inadequate medical and mental health care, and that guards have used pepper spray on some mentally ill detainees.

Last month, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra issued a separate report that also described detainees getting inadequate access to medical care, legal counsel and family visits at Adelanto and other centers in California that house immigrant detainees. Adelanto is the largest such privately run facility in the state.

A former detainee, Carlos Hidalgo, 51, of North Hollywood, said he was being held at Adelanto when he led a hunger strike there in 2016. The goal at the time, he said, was to raise awareness about complaints echoed this week – better medical care, better treatment, decent food.

Immigrant detainees in Adelanto were treated like criminals, even though they are not criminal detainees, and often didn’t receive prompt medical treatment, he said. The food, he added, was sometimes beyond gross: “They gave us ground turkey but we found it infected with maggots.”

The outcome of that three-day hunger strike? Officials locked down the facility and he was transferred to the Theo Lacy Facility in Orange County, he said. Hidalgo doesn’t expect much will come out of the current hunger strike either, except raising awareness.

“It ain’t going to get very far. But it’s a good way to call attention to the situation that everyone turns a blind eye to.”

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