Carlos Hidalgo displayed a batch of handwritten letters he’s received from people held inside California’s largest immigrant detention center.
“A lot of friends that I’ve made here have asked to be deported because of the conditions we live in, (it’s) not human like,” one person wrote.
Another said of being inside the center after serving time in jail: “It’s like paying for the same crime twice.”
Carlos Hidalgo, a former detainee at the Adelanto Detention Facility, is among advocates leading an effort urging media and government agencies to start referring to detention facilities as prisons. He was detained in Adelanto for nearly a year, became an activist while he was detained, and now that he’s out, still receives letters detailing poor care from those inside the detention. ( Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)Carlos Hidalgo, a former detainee at the Adelanto Detention Facility, is among advocates leading an effort urging media and government agencies to start referring to detention facilities as prisons. He was detained in Adelanto for nearly a year, became an activist while he was detained, and now that he’s out, still receives letters detailing poor care from those inside the detention. ( Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)Carlos Hidalgo, a former detainee at the Adelanto Detention Facility, is among advocates leading an effort urging media and government agencies to start referring to detention facilities as prisons. These are just a few of the letters he still receives detailing poor care inside the detention facilities. ( Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Adelanto Detention Facility is the largest immigration detention center in the Southern California area.Show Caption of Expand
Hidalgo — who was detained inside the Adelanto Detention Facility for about a year but is free on bond — is now on a mission to improve conditions at the facility, a former city-owned jail that now houses immigrants in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement as they await deportation or decisions in their immigration cases.
One way to do so, he believes, is by changing the way people speak about it.
With the nonprofit Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement, or CIVIC, Hidalgo helped launch an online petition in late 2017 that urges media and the government to “begin calling detention centers what they really are — prisons.”
Officials with the GEO Group, the private company that manages immigration detention centers including Adelanto, denounced the petition.
“The ICE Processing Centers operated by our company are very different than local jails and prison facilities, and we strongly reject that characterization,” GEO Group officials said in a statement provided by spokesman Pablo Paez.
Lori Haley, an ICE spokeswoman, did not respond to a question regarding the differences between prisons and detention centers.
ICE refers to facilities such as Adelanto as processing centers and detention facilities; immigrants are held in them solely for administrative purposes.
Media companies, including the Southern California News Group, typically use ICE terminology and the facilities’ given names.
‘What really goes on in there’
Immigrants can end up at Adelanto after seeking asylum at the San Diego-Tijuana border, or after they’re arrested by ICE agents in enforcement operations across Southern California. Unauthorized immigrants who have served prison time for a crime also can wind up in ICE custody for deportation proceedings.
Calling the facilities detention centers “is downplaying the reality of what really goes on in there,” said Hidalgo, 50, of North Hollywood, who was detained in Adelanto on two separate occasions.
CIVIC and the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice have criticized Adelanto over the number of detainees who have died while being housed there; ICE reported three deaths in 2017. There also have been complaints of sexual assaults, according to a CIVIC report.
Hidalgo said people often went hungry because the meal portions weren’t enough. He said he was sent to solitary confinement for six days for organizing a hunger strike to protest inhumane treatment. He said the center lacked proper medical care. He said he was punished for printing too many copies of paperwork he and others needed to vacate criminal convictions to avoid deportation. And, he said, proper legal aid was not available at the center.
ICE and GEO Group officials have denied wrongdoing and said they run a quality facility that follows the law. Immigrant detainees get full physicals within 14 days of arrival and can access dental, mental health and other medical care, officials said.
Residential center or prison?
At 409,000 square feet, the Adelanto facility is the largest center of its kind in California with an average daily population of 1,600.
The private facility began housing immigrant detainees in 2011 after an agreement between ICE and the city of Adelanto took effect. The city contracts with the GEO Group to operate and manage the center.
GEO Group officials, in their statement in response to the petition, described the facility as “state-of-the-art,” calling the structures “residential centers” that are “cultural responsive.” Amenities include artificial soccer fields, flat-screen televisions and modern classrooms with up-to-date technology, officials said in the statement.
Barbed wire surrounds the structure. Men are housed in windowless dormitories surrounding round dining tables where they can eat from commissary options. A cart with books, mostly Bibles and religious materials, is available to them. Immigrants also have access to a law library and kiosks to make commissary purchases. Immigrants who violate rules are segregated into disciplinary housing.
Inside Adelanto, immigrant detainees are classified to determine their housing units based on any past criminal convictions. High-risk detainees wear red. Those with prior misdemeanor convictions or no criminal history wear blue. Immigrants in orange fall somewhere in the middle. Detainees in red and blue are kept apart.
“Why the categorization? Everyone is there for one simple reason: immigration procedures,” Hidalgo said.
“Everything that they do is based on prison tactics — roll call, meals, chow times, the housing,” he added.
Hidalgo said his first detention in Adelanto was the result of an arrest for cashing a check from someone who owed him money. He got out on bond in 2013, then wound up in ICE custody a second time and was released on bond again in 2015. Those details could not be independently verified with ICE.
Now that he’s out and working with CIVIC, he continues to receive letters from people inside. They detail their journeys from their native countries to the U.S., mention previous crimes they’ve served jail time for, and explain the conditions the endure and how restless they feel inside the center.
“They house you like a criminal, they treat you like a criminal,” Hidalgo said. “There, you’re seen like a criminal, therefore what is that? A prison.”
Source: Oc Register