Los Angeles-based civil rights advocates Wednesday applauded a federal judge’s order that the government immediately reduce the population of the Adelanto ICE Processing Center due to a major outbreak of COVID-19 moving through the facility.
U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter ordered a set of conditions Tuesday that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement must follow to protect detainees at the 2,084-person detention facility in the Mojave Desert.
“We are hopeful that this order will, finally, force ICE to take meaningful steps to protect the immigrants they have continued to jail at Adelanto for no good reason,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, senior counsel at the ACLU of Southern California, which recently filed an emergency request for a temporary restraining order based on concerns reported by detainees.
There are currently 780 detainees housed at Adelanto, which is operating at roughly 37% capacity. Of that number, 81 detainees — including nine requiring hospitalization — have confirmed positive cases of the coronavirus spread across four of Adelanto’s housing units, according to Hatter’s filing in Los Angeles federal court.
The outbreak was most likely caused by a staff member who reported to work at the facility infected with COVID-19, but contact tracing has apparently not been completed and the source of the outbreak has not been identified, according to the order, which modifies a prior injunction.
In his strongly worded ruling, Hatter called out Gabriel Valdez, ICE’s longtime assistant field office director at Adelanto, for criticism. Hatter wrote that a previous directive to test all Adelanto detainees — before the pandemic took hold at the center — was quashed by the official “for an unjustified and arbitrary reason.”
ICE spokesperson Alexx Pons said Wednesday that although the agency cannot comment on pending litigation, it should be noted that effective safety measures are in place at all of the government’s detention facilities.
“All detainees have been offered COVID-19 testing at Adelanto, and test results continue to be reported on a rolling basis,” according to an ICE statement. “This remains a complex and evolving situation — data is expected to change as the agency receives updated case information. The facility has restricted new intake cases to further protect those in custody.”
Housing placements at Adelanto “have been adjusted based on test results to accommodate Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for isolation and monitoring. General housing modifications are intended to separate positive and negative detainees; detainees maintain access to the day room, showers/restrooms, law library, telephones, etc., in limited numbers to maximize social distancing,” according to the statement.
However, Hatter found that the ICE response to COVID-19, both the current outbreak and the continuing threat the virus poses to detainees, “remains inadequate and objectively unreasonable.”
Talia Inlender, supervising senior staff attorney at the Los Angeles civil rights firm Public Counsel, said the extent of the pandemic at Adelanto could have been slowed in April, when Hatter first ordered the number of detainees at the facility drastically decreased, and the government appealed.
“Instead of taking those steps, (ICE) defied it,” Inlender said Wednesday. “They appealed and fought and months have gone by and people got sick. But it’s not about one person — this is the result of a system that is entirely broken. Thousands of lives have been put at risk. I hope this pandemic shines a bright light on (all the mistakes made).”
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the core provisions of Hatter’s April preliminary injunction, and determined that the lower court has the authority to fashion a plan to deal with the coronavirus pandemic at Adelanto.
The decision was part of a months-long battle over the safety of immigrants detained at the facility owned and operated by The GEO Group, a private prison company. An Oct. 30 pretrial hearing is scheduled and trial is set for Nov. 17.
Hatter ordered Tuesday that ICE must address issues at the facility by:
— filing a population reduction plan by Monday which allows for detainees to maintain six feet of social distance at all times away from each other;
— halting any new or transfer detainees into the facility pending further order of the court;
— testing all Adelanto detainees, who agree to be tested, for COVID-19 on a weekly basis beginning Monday;
— filing a complete and updated census of all detainees starting Oct. 12 and every Monday thereafter;
— immediately stopping the use of the disinfectant HDQ Neutral in all housing units and other indoor spaces at the facility that are occupied or used by detainees;
— ensuring that staff endeavor to keep a six-foot social distance from each other and from detainees;
— ensuring that staff must wear masks while in housing units and whenever interacting with other staff and/or detainees;
— making sure that all Adelanto detainees wear masks and maintain, to the extent possible, and keep a social distance of six feet from other detainees at all times; and
— providing to detainees, at no cost, sufficient and appropriate cleaning supplies, and sufficient quantities of hand soap, paper towels, and hand sanitizer so the detainees never run out of those supplies.
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