LOS ANGELES, Calif. — The city of angels is awash in Adelanto, a windswept desert hamlet in California that is home to a vast privately-owned immigration detention complex that may detain approximately 2,000 migrants facing deportation. However, it’s practically deserted these days.
Using guaranteed minimum payments in contracts with private businesses to hold inmates may have a financial drawback in the case of the Adelanto facility. If a specific number of beds are not used, the government agrees to pay for them.
The federal government pays for at least 1,455 beds a day at Adelanto, but so far this fiscal year, there have been an average of 49 detainees every day. As a result of a federal court order relating to a 2020 pandemic, the number of detainees at Adelanto currently stands at around two dozen.
However, according to figures from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, just roughly half of the 30,000 beds have been used so far this fiscal year. The United States pays for the facilities to keep these detainees in solitary confinement. immigration detention facilities across the United States have been underutilized over the past two years because authorities were required, in certain cases, by court order, to space out detainees to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
According to Lizbeth Abeln, director of deportation defense for the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice in Southern California, “the government is still paying them to keep the facility operational. I find it alarming that they’re still getting paid for all of the beds every day. ” “There’s no one here.”
There are 1,181 beds in a Tacoma, Washington, facility, and the average daily population is 369, according to official data. Louisiana’s Jena immigration detention center has 1,170 beds and an average daily population of 452 inmates.
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A total of 23,390 people are currently being held by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), according to official data. According to a Government Accountability Office analysis of the years preceding the epidemic, the agency has long spent money on prison space that was never used by incorporating guaranteed minimum payments in its contracts. Between the 2017 fiscal year and May 2020, the minimum number of beds guaranteed by the government increased by 45 percent, according to the research.
When approached for comment, ICE’s headquarters officials first declined. There has been no official comment from Immigration and Customs Enforcement regarding the Adelanto case, but an agency representative indicated in an email on Monday that they are following with the court’s ruling.
Agency officials say they seek to use 85 to 90 percent of immigration detention space in general, and that they pay for a minimum number of beds should they be required. To deal with emergencies or abrupt surges in border crossings, officials stated that they need more flexibility. While conceding the pandemic’s “greatly diminished bed occupancy,” they insisted that detention institutions’ safety and security were their main priorities.
According to the documents, the cost of a detention bed was $144 per day in the past fiscal year.
They argue that the pandemic serves as a clear example of how little detainment is necessary for the United States. Immigrants who are scheduled for deportation hearings are now being monitored via an app rather than being locked up, according to deportation agents. According to government figures, the SmartLink app was used by more than 200,000 users as of June.
To paraphrase Michael Kaufman, senior staff attorney of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California (ACLU-SC), which filed a lawsuit to have detainees in Adelanto freed, “the federal government, probably like all of us, didn’t believe COVID would go on this long.” They don’t require an immigration detention capacity as large as they say they do, and this was an unintentional test case to prove that.
The Geo Group, based in Boca Raton, Florida, operates the Adelanto prison, which is one of the largest in the country and frequently accommodates immigrants apprehended in the Los Angeles area. Detainees have long complained about the facility’s medical services, and inspectors last visited in 2018, where they discovered nooses in the cells of detainees and an unduly rigid system of isolation.
In August 2019, according to a state report, more than 1,600 inmates were housed at the facility located 60 miles northeast of Los Angeles.
A group of immigration supporters filed a lawsuit soon after COVID-19 struck, citing safety concerns. Terry Hatter, U.S. District Court Judge, has ordered ICE to keep the number of detainees at 475 and prevented ICE from bringing in more detainees. After noting an unknown number of personnel and inmates not wearing masks, he ordered detainees to be separated so they could stretch, walk, use the restroom, and shower.
According to Hatter’s 2021 opinion, “this issue involves human lives whose reasonable safety is entitled to be enforced and protected by the Court under the United States Constitution.
A 750-bed extension that was once a state jail in Adelanto has since been used by immigration authorities to house new detainees. Immigrant rights advocates, on the other hand, claim that the annex is underutilized.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which also oversees the annex, declined to comment on Geo’s decision.
Limited bed capacity means that certain immigrants imprisoned in Southern California may be transported to other facilities overseas, according to the ICE field office director for enforcement and removal operations in the greater Los Angeles area, Thomas P. Giles.
“We only have a limited amount of bed space here in Los Angeles, so some of the people that we arrest, if we don’t have bed space, we’re going to fly them to Phoenix or Atlanta or another part of the country for bed space,” Giles said recently. It doesn’t affect our operations directly, but it does increase the logistical burden.
Adelanto’s Immigration Court is managed by the Department of Justice, which handles detainees’ deportation proceedings. Immigration Judge Mimi Tsankov, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said that due to diminishing numbers at the desert facility. judges in these courtrooms are currently hearing the cases of immigrants elsewhere in the country through video.
As Eva Bitran, an ACLU staff attorney noted, hundreds of detainees have been released on bond or due to medical reasons or have been deported throughout the years.
She called it a “huge waste of resources.”