Health and Safety Concerns Overlooked at Immigrant Detention Facility, Audit Says - NBC Southern California
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Health and Safety Concerns Overlooked at Immigrant Detention Facility, Audit Says

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    Audit Finds Health and Safety Overlooked at Detention Center

    A father arrested by ICE two years ago while taking his daughters to school talks about his experience in a detention center. Lolita Lopez reports for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 7, 2019. (Published Thursday, March 7, 2019)

    The California state auditor looking into conditions at certain immigration detention centers housing undocumented people found that health and safety concerns are being overlooked and more oversight is needed.

    The state audit looked at counties and cities that have contracts with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to house detainees. The report suggests the city of Adelanto, which has been paid millions of dollars in fees to have that contract, is not aware of what is happening behind the walls of the facility.

    "Inside the detention center, it was hard for all people," said Romulo Avelica Gonzalez, a 51-year old father, who spent six months inside the Adelanto Detention Facility, more than 80 miles away from his family in Lincoln Heights. Avelica Gonzalez was arrested while dropping off one of his daughters at school in February 2017.

    He was released after a detention order was overturned and is awaiting a decision on a visa.

    But, he says he will never forget his time inside the Adelanto facility, including a moment when he says he witnessed a man who tried to kill himself.

    "I see one people in the shower and he put the sheet in his neck and put the sheet on the shower," he said. "He don't want anymore live." Federal inspectors last year found health and safety risks at the Adelanto facility, including bed sheets turned into nooses in detainee cells.

    According to a new report obtained by the NBC4 I-Team and released on February 26, the city of Adelanto was not aware of the inspection reports, nor did they review complaints or check to see if standards set by immigration and customs enforcement, including proper medical care, are being met.

    The city contracts with a private company, Geo Group, to manage the facility, including safety. The state audit covered five years and says cities like Adelanto did not provide meaningful oversight.

    The Geo Group said in a statement, "While we cannot speak to the findings and recommendations in the report as they relate to local cities and municipalities, we strongly dispute the claim that the facilities managed by Geo Group on behalf of the federal government lack sufficient oversight.

    The ICE processing centers we manage are under constant operational oversight by full-time, on-site government monitors.

    Furthermore, the facilities are subject to extensive regulatory requirements and on-going reviews and audits, including routine and unannounced independent reviews conducted by the federal government and independent accrediting organizations.

    As a longstanding service provider to the federal government, our focus has always been and remains on delivering high-quality, culturally responsive services in safe and humane environments."

    They point to several actions taken since last year, including the enforcement of the no hanging of bed sheets rule which they say detainees used for privacy and reviewing the medical services at the center that houses nearly 2,000 detainees.

    Officials with Adelanto did not respond to requests for comment.

    "I think it is very important to go there every month, the city or the federal agents to check the conditions of the center because it is very very hard," Gonzalez said.

    The state auditor is actually calling for urgent legislation to require that cities have adequate oversight policies currently. The city and others have been named in a lawsuit citing inhumane conditions.

    Geo Group denies any allegations of inadequate care. ICE says the city of Adelanto continues to have a multi-year agreement to house detainees, adding centers are subject to stringent and regular inspections.

    An ICE spokesperson says: "U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is committed to providing for the welfare of all those entrusted to its custody and to ensuring all detainees are treated in a humane and professional manner. Accordingly, all facilities that house ICE detainees must meet rigorous performance standards, which specify detailed requirements for virtually every facet of the detention environment. The safety, rights and health of detainees in ICE's care are of paramount concern and all ICE detention facilities are subject to stringent, regular inspections."

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