Protesters gathered in downtown Los Angeles Tuesday to call attention to a civil rights lawsuit alleging that the U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement is among those responsible for “deplorable” conditions for immigration detainees at the privately run Adelanto Detention Facility.
The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles in May — but updated on Monday — on behalf of eight refugees from Central America who sued the city of Adelanto, ICE and the GEO Group, a private prison company that operates the detention facility. The suit alleges that the inmates — seven of whom have now bonded out of the facility — were subjected to “inhumane” and unconstitutional treatment, and were victims of assaults by guards in retaliation for going on a hunger strike in June 2017.
“There’s no doubt the conditions we describe are ongoing,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Rachel Steinback.
An ICE spokeswoman said that as a matter of policy, the Department of Homeland Security does not comment on pending litigation.
“However, lack of comment should not be construed as agreement or stipulation with any of the allegations,” said Lori K. Haley, the agency’s western region communications director. “In DHS’s homeland security mission, our trained law enforcement professionals adhere to the department’s mission, upholding our laws while continuing to provide our nation with safety and security.”
The plaintiffs allege that after they went on the hunger strike to protest conditions in Adelanto, guards “violently attacked, pepper sprayed and beat” them, then placed them “in segregation for 10 days — completely isolated from the outside world — as punishment.”
The GEO Group said in a statement that the allegations are “completely baseless,” and were reviewed by ICE, “which found that the officers acted in accordance with established protocol.”
“We will vigorously defend our company against these frivolous allegations,” the Florida-based company said.
The GEO group, which operates more than 140 prisons around the world and is among ICE’s biggest contractors, said it manages inmates “in safe, secure, and humane environments. Members of our team strive to treat all of those entrusted to our care with compassion, dignity, and respect.”
Representatives of the city of Adelanto did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to the lawsuit, while “Adelanto is a government facility for political asylum seekers and other immigrant detainees, and its inhabitants are overwhelmingly law-abiding foreign nationals seeking safety and refuge, its conditions mirror those of this country’s most abusive prisons.”
The plaintiffs further contend that the facility has “gained notoriety as the `deadliest immigration detention center in the country”’ and has been the subject of congressional, state and general inquiries.
“These privately run immigration facilities cannot continue to mistreat and abuse those in their custody,” said Matthew Strugar, a civil rights attorney who worked on the lawsuit. “The city of Adelanto cannot allow this to happen.”
Steinback said that Adelanto’s detainees continue to suffer inside its walls.
“We seek to reaffirm those rights they are entitled to under the Constitution, and we will continue to side with our immigrant neighbors as we fight the inhumane commercialization of immigrant detention until it ends completely,” she said.
Outside the Federal Building on Los Angeles Street, protesters carried signs reading “Free the Families,” Abolish ICE,” “ICE Out of L.A.” and “End Family Detention.”
Civil rights attorneys said such demonstrations were essential to make people aware of what he alleges are abusive conditions within detention centers like Adelanto.
“The public really doesn’t know what’s going on in there,” Strugar said. “It’s important to shed light on what (detained) adults — as well as children — are going through.”
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