At least 20 male immigrants, mainly from Central America, began a hunger strike at an adult immigration detention facility in California on Friday night, according to the advocacy group Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC). The hunger strike at the Adelanto Detention Facility is the fourth one launched by immigrant detainees across the nation in the past two weeks.
The Adelanto Detention Facility is run by the GEO Group, a private company that has a contract with the federal government’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency to house federal immigrant detainees. Both male and female detainees are held at the center, though in separate facilities. In July, the GEO Group announced that it would add 640 beds to increase the facility’s capacity to 1,940 beds.
We are detainees and not prisoners.
In a three-page, hand-written note obtained by ThinkProgress, the hunger strikers call on the GEO Group staff to provide them with better medical and dental care, to offer better food, and to treat them with respect. The detainees say they should have clean, hot main course meals instead of slices of cold turkey. They also suggest that they should be able to lodge complaints with a grievance coordinator who does not work for the GEO corporation.
“We are detainees and not prisoners,” the letter reads, in part. “We are humans who have the misfortune of being detained. We also respectfully and humbly ask that no retaliation be taken upon any of us detained here in Adelanto by any GEO or ICE staff in our right to unite for a common cause and to protect one another in our peacefull [sic] protest and demonstration.”
Adelanto has a long history of abuse allegations. In the past 15 months, there have been at least four incidences of extreme physical abuse by GEO staff, including a confirmed death and a miscarriage, according to a documentary released on Friday by CIVIC and Film Bliss Studios. In the documentary, a former GEO Group officer criticized the facility for its “overcrowding conditions” and recounted seeing two Muslim men “get arrested and put in segregation for simply praying.” The officer said that GEO officers were “not trained for anything” and that he had to learn everything on his own.
Raúl Ernesto Morales Ramos, a 44-year-old Salvadoran immigrant, experienced “unusual bleeding” while detained at Adelanto. He died three days later at the Palmdale Regional Medical Center. And in 2012, an immigrant detainee named Fernando Dominguez Valdivia died from bronchopneumonia without receiving adequate medical attention. Valdivia’s death was deemed preventable, according to a later investigation from the U.S. Office of Detention Oversight.
There have been multiple hunger strikes at U.S. immigration detention facilities over the past several weeks. On October 14, ThinkProgress first reported that about 54 South Asian men refused food and water at the El Paso detention center in Texas. Five days later, 14 South Asian men joined in solidarity at the LaSalle Detention Center in Louisiana. On Wednesday, 27 women, mostly from Central America and Mexico, commenced a hunger strike at the T. Don Hutto Facility in Texas.
The strikes at El Paso and LaSalle concluded over the weekend. However, Jan Meslin, the director of social change development at CIVIC, visited the two facilities while the hunger strikes were still ongoing and spoke with detainees who were weak after refusing food for nearly two weeks. “It made me ashamed of my country,” Meslin said.