Adelanto Detention Center (photo: John Moore, Getty Images North America)
Somebody’s not eating their meals at Adelanto Detention Center (ADC), which houses 1,450 federal immigration detainees in the Southern California high desert. Somewhere between 30 and 410 people (depending on who is asked) are on a hunger strike, following similar protests in at least three other facilities in the nation.
Attorneys and advocates for the detainees vouch for the higher number, while U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokeswoman Virginia Kice reportedly said Friday, “Only 30 detainees refused their trays at this morning’s first meal.”
Civil rights groups and others have complained about poor conditions, bad treatment and awful medical care since the facility opened in 2011. They were not happy when ADC-operator GEO Group, Inc. received permission from ICE to add 650 beds and 29 congressional supporters signed a letter of protest to the agency in July.
The members of the House called for an immediate halt to the expansion then underway, an investigation of detainee healthcare by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General and a pro bono phone line from the facility to a civil rights group.
Hunger strikes have been popping up at immigration detention centers lately.
Dozens of asylum seekers from Bangladesh, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan, detained at a facility in El Paso, Texas, began refusing food and water on October 14. More than a dozen people at LaSalle Detention Center in Louisiana began a hunger strike less than a week later. On October 28, a couple dozen women at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Texas stopped eating to protest conditions. The El Paso and LaSalle strikes have ended.
While demonstrators outside the Adelanto center held up signs called for asylum, not detention, those inside had more modest demands. They want better medical care, longer visitation hours, respectful treatment by GEO staff members,
According to GEO’s website, it is “the world's leading provider of correctional, detention, and community reentry services with 105 facilities, approximately 87,000 beds, and 20,500 employees around the globe. GEO's facilities are located in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and South Africa.”
Nine current and former detainees of GEO’s Aurora Detention Facility in Denver were given permission by the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado to file a lawsuit (pdf) claiming they were forced to work for $1 a day under threat of solitary confinement.
GEO missed out on a golden opportunity to spruce up its image a few years ago. The private prison company inked a deal with Florida Atlantic University (FAU), purchasing the naming rights to its new football stadium for $6 million. Students went nuts and loud protests ensued.
The university killed the deal in April 2013 and FAU President Mary Jane Saunders resigned the next month. She wrote in her farewell letter, “There is no doubt the recent controversies have been significant and distracting to all members of the University community.” And then she blamed the fiasco on “fiercely negative media coverage.”