Inside Look at State's Largest Immigrant Detention Facility - NBC Southern California

Inside Look at State's Largest Immigrant Detention Facility

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    Immigration and Customs Enforcement agreed to give NBC4 a tour of its Adelanto Detention Facility, the largest of its kind in California. (Published Wednesday, May 31, 2017)

    On a request to see what life is like for the hundreds of undocumented immigrants detained since President Donald Trump took office in January, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agreed to give NBC4 a tour of its Adelanto Detention Facility, the largest of its kind in California.

    The facility began housing immigration detainees in August 2011, the result of an Intergovernmental Service Agreement between ICE and the city of Adelanto. The city then contracted with the GEO Group, Inc. to operate and manage the center. None of the guards are federal agents and no one on-site is armed.

    "Everything we do here, we have a standard," says LA Deputy Field Office Director Thomas Giles, who oversees enforcement and removal operations. "What I believe we want people on the outside to know is we're treating these people with dignity and respect."

    NBC4 was allowed access inside the facility on the condition we not show the faces of those detained, as is protocol for privacy reasons. The tour took us to the medical ward where doctors and dentists are on-hand as needed; the kitchen is where three meals a day are prepared on a six-week rotating schedule; the Rec Yard allows for up to four hours a day of outside freedom in soccer, basketball and a dirt track.

    Inside, detainees (they are not considered "inmates") are housed in dorms (the preferred nomenclature to "cells"), the doors to which are left unlocked 24/7 with the exception of the daily counting process which happens 5 times a day in each housing unit.

    "Most of the detainees are well-behaved, it's very clean inside and they respect the rules of the facility," Giles says.

    Here, it's considered an administrative detention. The facility is designed to house low, medium and high-risk adult male and female detainees. At any given time, there are nationals from more than 70 countries represented. As of this month, the majority come from Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador — Haitian immigrants, which used to be in the top three nationalities detained, have seen a recent decrease.

    The detainees are in ICE custody pending a decision in their immigration cases or awaiting final arrangements for their repatriation.

    There are 1,600 detainees at the Adelanto facility as of May 31, 2017, leaving nearly 400 beds open to make it at capacity.

    According to ICE, 65 percent of the detainees have criminal convictions, the other 35 percent are either asylum seekers or immigrants without convictions but could have removal orders or multiple arrests.

    One inmate who's served more than 21 months at Adelanto agreed to talk about his life on the inside with NBC4. Roberto Galan is from El Salvador and says he first came into the country illegally in 1997.

    "I don't have papers," Galan says. "I'm fighting for my case because they want to deport me."

    Galan says he has a wife and three American-born children. He admits to having been a member of the MS-13 gang in El Salvador, but says he escaped that life for a better one in the U.S.

    ICE would not discuss his latest brush with agents that ultimately got him into custody, but Galan says he was picked up outside an LA courthouse and he admits he has a conviction for possession of marijuana with intent to sell and for having an illegal firearm.

    But he doesn't think he's a so-called "bad hombre."

    "Once you're here," he said in Spanish. "it's very difficult."

    Galan says medical care is often slow in the facility but admits the life here is much better than the time he spent in county lockup. Although he says that for a detention center, he feels like they treat him like a "delinquent" when his only true crime for being here is the fact that he doesn't have a U.S. passport.

    Like the other detainees, Galan has 24/7 access to the common areas; he can make phone calls as much as he wants and at any time of the day, but he has to have money in his account to cover the cost. He says a 40-minute phone call usually costs about $4. But this is not the life he says he wants to live.

    The facility underwent its most recent expansion in 2015, adding 650 more beds. US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said he wants to expand more detention centers but it's unclear so far if Adelanto will see another expansion.

    According to ICE, they detain an average of more than 40,000 undocumented immigrants a day in more than 200 facilities nationwide. And while the LA field office says it's seen a slight increase in detainees, agents say the standards have remained the same for years, regardless of the administration changes in Washington.

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