Hunger Strikers at California’s Adelanto Detention Center

Miami’s Krome Service Processing Center has a well-deserved reputation for the particular cruelties it has dispensed upon the Haitian asylum seekers detained within its walls. Yet Krome’s notoriety may soon be superseded by a new breed of detention centers in the southwestern United States. A string of private prisons contracted by ICE operate near the US-Mexico border. In Chaparral, New Mexico the Otero County Prison Facility is run by the Management & Training Corporation, as is Calexico, California’s Imperial Regional Detention Facility. San Diego’s Otay Mesa Detention Facility is managed by CoreCivic, a company previously known as the Corrections Corporation of America, while the Adelanto Detention Facility, in Adelanto, California, is run by the GEO Group, formerly Wackenhut. While the majority of detainees locked up in these facilities are from Central America, they also hold increasing numbers of Haitians, non-criminal asylum seekers who journeyed to the US not by sea across the treacherous Florida Straits – but seven-thousand miles overland from Brazil, through South and Central America.

Of these detentions centers, Otero reportedly holds the most Haitian detainees. But Adelanto has the worst reputation. It sits isolated in the bleak desert of San Bernadino County, eighty-five miles northeast of Los Angeles, in a depressed municipality desperate for revenue for its government and jobs for its residents. Adelanto is the largest immigrant detention center in California. It holds some 1800 immigrants, including 240 women. ICE guarantees the Geo Group a minimum occupancy rate, paying the corporation $112 dollars a day per inmate, and allowing them to clear a cool $40 million per year. Adelanto ranks third amongst immigrant detention centers for sexual assaults by guards on inmates and with three detainees dying in custody since the beginning of 2017 (and five since July 2016), it is arguably the deadliest immigrant detention center in the US. Medical care is inadequate and indifferent and has been cited as the direct cause of inmate deaths. When not making $1 a day cleaning, inmates have been used as forced labor. Racism, maltreatment, and abuse is pervasive and inmate suicide is not uncommon. Bond amounts are set at excessively high rates: between $15,000 and $25,000 is the norm though some bonds have been set at $50,000.  The bond rates work to both deny and delay detainee release, keeping cells profitably filled for the GEO Group in the process. In addition to frequent check-ins with ICE officials and parole officers, those detainees who are released must wear electronic ankle monitors – shackles, really – embedded with satellite tracking chips. Provided by BI, Inc, a subsidiary of the GEO Group, the monitors cost close to $500 a month. Those wearing the shackles shoulder their costs.

On the morning of June 12, 2017, a hunger strike was initiated by a group Adelanto detainees from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, their solidarity forged through their participation in a Refugee Caravan that carried them to the border. Soon known as the Adelanto 9, the strikers presented a list of demands they wanted delivered to ICE and asked for a meeting with the agency to discuss conditions in the detention facility. They spoke of the costs of bonds, the denial of the right to political asylum, the humiliation and discrimination meted out on the detained by the GEO Group guards, the poor administration of paperwork and processing and the lack of Spanish-language forms, the incompetence of medical staff, and the quality of the food. Their demands included that bonds be set at fair rates for all prisoners, that they be given the right to political asylum, that conditions within the detention center (from new and hygienic underwear to better food to clean water) be improved, and that inmates be given more time for religious services.

The protests were quickly broken up. Communication between the strikers and media outlets Univision and La Opinion was severed. GEO Group employees beat and peppered sprayed the hunger strikers, breaking the nose of one of the group, before throwing them into hot showers, exacerbating the intense burn of the pepper spray. Members of the Adelanto 9 were placed in solidarity confinement. One was deported. Others were threatened by guards who claimed they would inform the immigration judges of their conduct as a way to undermine their asylum cases.

The Adelanto detainees were undeterred. Two days after the first strike, thirty-three women prisoners began a short hunger strike, demanding better medical care, high bond amounts, basic respect from staff and guards, and to reunification with their children and families. On July 4th, another group of Central American inmates began a hunger strike, this time joined by twenty Haitian detainees.

The strikes did not lead to their release but it did alert many in the outside world to the conditions of Adelanto and the collusion of the GEO Group, the City of Adelanto, ICE, the bond companies, and the US Department of Justice in the mistreatment and monetization of asylum seekers. Now, emerging from those efforts, there is a push by a coalition of organizations to raise the bond funds to release the remaining hunger strikers. Led by CLUE (Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice) and sustained by a tireless group of activists, academics, lawyers, and most importantly, the detainees themselves, they are trying to raise $60,000 to create a bail fund for the remaining Adelanto detainees. They are also working to help support, settle, and integrate asylum seekers upon their release.

Donations in any amount will help free the asylum seekers imprisoned in Adelanto. And each individual freed helps alert the world to those still detained.

Please donate to: Set the Captives Free: Adelanto Bond Fund.

For further information:

Clergy and Laity United For Economic Justice

Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement CIVIC

Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice 

Black Alliance for Just Immigration

Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Detention Watch Network (DWN) 



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