Last week, Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) and 28 other congressional representatives called on the federal government to stop the expansion of the Adelanto Detention Center, a privately-run Southern California prison that this month expanded to become the largest adult-only immigration detention facility in the country.  It now has the capacity to detain up to 1,940 people, including women for the first time.

Chu explains in her letter on July 14, 2015, to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) that since GEO Group opened the facility in 2011, there have been consistent reports documenting GEO’s failure to respond and adequately address medical concerns.

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The Congressional letter highlights Gerardo Corrales, a nineteen-year-old who is paralyzed from the waist down. Corrales suffered a urinary tract infection because GEO Group was unwilling to provide him with a sufficient number of catheters.  Doctors at a nearby hospital not affiliated with GEO told Corrales that his infection could have been fatal.  Earlier this month, Corrales launched his own campaign along with three other men detained at Adelanto calling for the release of all people from the facility. Chu’s letter includes a link to Corrales’ oral testimony.

My organization, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), has been documenting medical neglect and other abuses at Adelanto since 2012 through the support of CIVIC volunteers who visit the facility weekly.  Although U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) tells us that people detained at Adelanto who request a medical visit are seen within 24 hours, the people in detention tell us otherwise.  In fact, it is our understanding that sometimes it takes weeks for the men to see medical personnel, and they rarely meet with a doctor. The nurses often prescribe ibuprofen or “drink more water” for symptoms ranging from cataracts, to a slipped disk, to infections. One man was denied treatment for a serious hip infection because “it was too expensive,” according to a letter released in May by advocates. Unbelievably, nurses even deny sweaters to people detained at Adelanto who are cold.

Despite numerous complaints CIVIC has filed with DHS’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and the Office of the Inspector General about the facility, ICE decided to expand the Adelanto Detention Center to detain 640 more people, including up to 260 women. Currently, the Adelanto Detention Center is imprisoning eight women, and local ICE personnel are hopeful that the expansion will allow them to detain transgender women at the facility as well.  This is very troubling because these vulnerable populations require specialized healthcare services, and GEO Group has already proven that it is incapable of providing adequate care to the men in detention at Adelanto. Meanwhile, at GEO Group’s only other California-based immigration detention facility in Bakersfield, a pregnant woman tripped and miscarried last month after GEO shackled her in violation of federal guidelines.

Chu and her colleagues note that the reasons why ICE has decided to house women at Adelanto are “unclear.”  The members of Congress have called on ICE to “immediately halt expansion” of this facility.  They also are asking (1) DHS to appoint an investigator at Adelanto (2) DOJ
to launch an official investigation at Adelanto, and (3) ICE to provide a group like CIVIC with a pro bono telephone extension so that the community can expand its ability to document and keep Congressional offices updated on problems witnessed at this remote facility.

GEO Group has severely abused its unchecked powers at Adelanto, and our federal government can no longer ignore the medical failures at this facility.  We join our Congressional representatives in calling on ICE to halt the expansion of this facility and ultimately defund
immigration detention in Southern California’s high desert.

Fialho is an attorney in California and the co-founder/executive director of CIVIC.