Profits over care make case for immigration reform
© Getty Images

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFemale Dems see double standard in Klobuchar accusations Klobuchar, O'Rourke visit Wisconsin as 2020 race heats up McCabe's shocking claims prove the bloodless coup rolls on MORE won the California primary last week, and if she takes the White House in November, we hope she will take a cue from California.  

This month, the California Senate passed the Dignity Not Detention Act (SB 1289), authored by Senator Ricardo Lara, and co-sponsored by the Immigrant Legal Resource Center and Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC). This is the first bill in the nation to prohibit municipalities from contracting with for-profit immigration detention facilities, to require all other detention facilities in California to uphold national humane treatment standards, and to allow people to sue if their rights are violated under these basic standards.  


The systemic issues calling for action could not be more pronounced. While an election year marks the potential for change, multi-billion dollar prison companies such as GEO Group and CCA have lobbied to ensure that immigration detention remains deeply entrenched in California and nationwide. Many do not know that immigration detention – the civil incarceration of immigrants, including refugees and green card holders, in deportation proceedings – affects thousands in our own backyard.  

California imprisons more immigrants than any other state, except for Texas, holding approximately five thousand people in 10 detention facilities. The vast majority of individuals are locked up in prisons run by corporations with a legal duty to maximize profits for its shareholders. It is, therefore, unsurprising and disturbing that 23 individuals have reportedly died in California detention facilities since 2003. Most recently, in May, a Russian immigrant died at the Otay Detention Facility, a privately-run CCA-facility in San Diego.

As billion dollar corporations such as GEO Group and CCA make profits hand over fist, it is immigrant communities who pay the price. Nearly a quarter of U.S. children who have been placed in foster care after their parents were detained or deported are from California. Family income has been shown to drop an average of 70 percent following detention of a parent, and spouses and partners of detained people often suffer from depression. Given that California is the most immigrant-rich state in the nation, these are costs that California cannot afford to bear, and certainly not to augment the profits of billion dollar companies.  

The Dignity Not Detention Act states boldly that the State of California will not stand idly by as private prison corporations make billions off of the mistreatment of some of the most vulnerable in our state. Gerardo Corrales, a 19-year-old from Seaside, California, was detained at the Adelanto Detention Facility, one of the largest immigration detention facilities in the country run by GEO Group. Corrales is a paraplegic and uses a wheelchair, and GEO Group forced Corrales to reuse catheter bags. This led to a serious urinary tract infection, which ultimately required Corrales to be admitted to an outside hospital. GEO Group’s cost-cutting and risky practices have no place in California.

The Dignity Not Detention Act also ensures accountability for California’s county and city jails that contract with U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE). Felix Alvarado, a 53-year-old man from Honduras, was beaten and humiliated at Theo Lacy Facility, an Orange County jail that contracts with ICE. On one occasion, Orange County jail officers handcuffed Alvarado and repeatedly slammed his head against a prison wall. On another occasion, offers forcibly removed him from the shower and paraded him naked back to his cell, where he was forced to remain unclothed and covered in soap for 15-minutes, according to a federal administrative complaint filed by CIVIC last December.  

If the Dignity Not Detention Act becomes law, people like Corrales and Alvarado will have a right of action to sue the government for violations of the federal Performance Based National Detention Standards, which currently offer no substantive protection to people in detention and operate only as unenforceable guidelines for federal contractors.

We hope that if elected President, Clinton will make good on her promise to “end private prisons and private detention centers” – an action which urgently needs adoption in both the civil and criminal contexts. For now, let’s ensure California continues to lead the way toward a more humane country by choosing dignity over detention.  

Grisel Ruiz is a Staff Attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center in San Francisco. Christina Fialho is the co-founder/executive director of CIVIC and an attorney in California.