Southern California's largest immigration detention center is about to get bigger.
The sprawling jail complex in this high desert town currently holds up to 1,300 men in federal immigration custody, many of whom spend months waiting for their cases to be decided. A construction project underway will add 650 beds, including a women's housing unit.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said the project is necessary to help the agency meet the demand for more bed space in the Los Angeles area. Immigrant advocacy groups are protesting the plan, arguing that the for-profit company that operates the facility has a record of neglect.
The Adelanto site is operated by Florida-based GEO Group Inc., which has held contracts to house federal immigration detainees across the country since the 1980s. The company is paying for the $45-million expansion at Adelanto, which it said will generate an additional $21 million each year for its shareholders.
Immigrant advocates have long opposed a federal rule that requires the government to pay for 34,000 beds in detention centers each night, with many pushing for cheaper alternatives, including parole-type programs or electronic monitoring devices.
"Holding immigrants in privately run detention centers doesn't benefit anyone but the companies that manage them," said Christina Fialho, whose organization, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement, operates visitation programs at 32 immigrant detention facilities.
Fialho, whose group organized a protest outside the Adelanto facility Monday, said its remote location 40 miles north of San Bernardino makes it difficult for families and attorneys to visit.
She said detainees have complained of substandard medical care, pointing to the death of Fernando Dominguez, a Mexican immigrant who died of pneumonia in 2012 after being detained at Adelanto. An inspection report by the Department of Homeland Security concluded that the center "failed to provide adequate healthcare" to Dominguez. His family sued GEO for medical malpractice, and the case is pending.
Pablo Paez, a spokesman for GEO Group, said the company's facilities are safe and "adhere to strict contractual requirements and standards set by ICE." He said the Adelanto site received a perfect score during a recent review by the American Correctional Assn., an independent accreditation organization.
Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for ICE, said all of the more than 400 facilities where detainees are housed are subject to regular inspections and must comply with a set of standards that "reflect the agency's commitment to maintain safe, secure and humane conditions."
The Adelanto expansion will save taxpayers money, she added.
Currently, ICE pays $111 a day for the first 975 individuals housed in Adelanto, Kice said. That rate drops to less than $50 a day when the number rises above 975. The agency pays $82 to $118 a day at other facilities, she said.
Officials in Adelanto support the expansion, which they said will help the town's struggling economy and 18% unemployment rate. The city signed an agreement with ICE to house the detainees and hired GEO as a subcontractor.
The city, which is facing a $2.6-million budget deficit, earns 75 cents a day from GEO for every detention bed filled, according to Adelanto City Manager Jim Hart. More beds mean more money for the town.
"It takes an existing facility, expands it and creates more jobs," Hart said. "That's a financial benefit for the city."
Adelanto is home to several other corrections facilities, including a San Bernardino County jail and a state prison facility that is also run by GEO. The city of 31,000 recently proposed building a 3,280-bed jail that it hopes to lease to Los Angeles County, which would use it to house inmates when its own jails are full.
On Monday, U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) toured the facility.
Speaking to advocates outside, Chu said she did not notice anything worrisome, although she said she spoke to one inmate who complained that detainees were not given enough to eat or enough time to work on their cases in the law library.
Chu said she has asked officials at the center for additional information, including abuse records and copies of inspections carried out by the Office for Detention Oversight.
One of the protesters, Luis Nolasco, was collecting donations for asylum-seeking minors from Central America who have recently been transferred from border areas in Texas to California. He said the government should be directing money to children, not toward expanding its immigrant detention system.
"Resources should go to help the children seeking asylum, not to grow private prisons," he said.
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