"A federal judge in Los Angeles ordered immigration officials to reduce the number of people held at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center so that those that those who remain can practice safe distancing during the pandemic.
Judge Terry J. Hatter Jr., in a ruling late Thursday, said ICE officials must reduce the detainee population in Adelanto, starting with the release of at least 100 immigrants by Monday, April 27, and 150 more by April 30.
The detainee population, the judge wrote, must be reduced from its current level – approximately 1,300 men and women – to “a level that would allow the remaining detainees to maintain a social distance of 6 feet from each other at all times and at all places, including while sleeping, eating, showering, and going about other daily activities, except when there is a medical necessity or a safety emergency.”
Hatter granted a preliminary injunction requested by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California and the law firm Latham & Watkins LLP, which this month filed a lawsuit alleging that conditions at the Adelanto center endangered the lives of detainees during the coronavirus pandemic.
The detainees – most of them unauthorized immigrants who are being held while their cases are processed – live in crowded, unsanitary conditions that make them more susceptible to coronavirus, attorneys argued.
“We are very glad that the court has recognized that the constitutional rights of immigrants are as important as the constitutional rights of us all,” said ACLU attorney Minju Cho.
The ruling is believed to be the biggest mass depopulation order of an immigrant facility in California. It comes on the heels of another major ruling earlier in the week by U.S. District Judge Jesus G. Bernal in Riverside, who wrote that ICE has “exhibited callous indifference to the well being” of the immigrants in detention.
Those two cases and others across the country making similar accusations have been filed even as the privately-owned company that runs the Adelanto facility, GEO Group, is looking to expand.
On Monday, April 20, Bernal granted a preliminary injunction ordering ICE to immediately begin identifying detainees who have underlying health conditions that could put them at higher risk if they contract coronavirus and consider releasing those detainees. That injuction is part of a class action lawsuit, Fraihat v. ICE, which alleges that tens of thousands of immigrant detainees are being denied adequate health care and disability accommodations.
The rulings, along with some others that have resulted in releases of smaller clusters of detainees, have been lauded by immigrant rights advocates.
“What we’re seeing from judges is that they are prioritizing health over detention. It’s important, not just for those detained but for the folks who work there and their families and communities,” said Javier Hernandez, director of the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice.
In Hatter’s ruling, immigration officials have until May 4 to comply. The judge offered three ways to achieve the goal: release detainees, deport detainees who have final orders of deportation and have exhausted all appeals, or transfer detainees to other facilities where they are able to maintain a 6-foot distance from each other “at all times and at all places.”
Hatter did not specify how many immigrants altogether would have to be released, deported or transferred to achieve the goal of maintaining social distance.
Cho, the ACLU attorney, estimates that it could be more than 75 % of the people currently there.
“(The judge) found the bunk beds are not six feet apart. He also finds that any sleeping room or cell that contains a toilet without a lid must be limited to a single occupant,” Cho said. “None of the toilets at Adelanto have a lid.” Most detainees, she said, are in cells of four, some in cells of eight, sharing a toilet.
“When you put all these pieces together, it leads to at least a 75% reduction” in the facility’s operation, she said.
Hatter wrote that any detainees who are transferred to a facility where they can’t maintain six feet from each other, or “where the cleaning standards of that facility do not comply with the standards required by this preliminary injunction,” will then be “immediately released from detention by the court.”
The judge recommended that those who are older than 55 or have pre-existing conditions, and others who don’t have a criminal history, be given priority preference.
Hatter also ordered that the Adelanto facility in San Bernardino County not accept any new detainees until the case is resolved.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials did not reply to requests for comment. It’s likely that any appeal will be taken up on an emergency basis given the timing of the judge’s order, Cho said.
Cho called Hatter’s ruling “powerful.”
“The judge really recognized that the conditions at Adelanto are inhumane and unconstitutional, and that the government has been deliberately indifferent to the risk that all detainess have because of COVID-19.”
A demonstrator demands the shutdown of the Adelanto ICE Processing Center during a “car rally” on Friday, April 24, 2020 outside the immigrant detention facility. Participants and supporters included: the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice, CLUE Justice, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, Never Again Action, Freedom for Immigrants, Inland Empire Immigrant Youth Collective, Hispanos Unidos and the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. Credit: Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice.
The ACLU recently won another case before Judge Hatter, when he ordered ICE officials to release six immigrant detainees with underlying health conditions from the Adelanto facility.
Meanwhile, the Florida-based GEO Group is looking to expand its operations in Adelanto by converting the adjacent Desert View Modified Correctional Facility into a second site for immigrant detainees. The city’s planning commission approved that expansion in February, and the city council was set to vote on the proposal Wednesday, via teleconference, but had to postpone for lack of a quorum.
Adelanto Councilwoman Stevevonna Evans said the issue should be postponed until the council can reconvene and everyone who is interested can attend the meeting.
“It seems everything (with GEO) seems to happen when there’s minimal oversight,” she said Friday.
Last year, the city of Adelanto ended its contract with the GEO Group, eliminating the city as a middle of man of sorts. Evans and immigrant-rights advocates said at the time that the move probably would translate to an expansion of the facility.
The push to annex the Desert View prison to the ICE facility is “the result of those actions” taken by city management last year, said Hernandez, of the Inland Coalition.
Evans said: “This was all a very strategic plan.”"
Kopetman, Roxana. "Federal judge orders Adelanto ICE detention center to social distance, begin releasing some detainees due to coronavirus". 23 April, 2020.