More than two dozen members of Congress are calling on federal officials to halt the expansion of California’s largest immigrant detention center over reports of medical neglect at the privately run facility.
Lawmakers cite the recent deaths of two immigrant detainees and a “pattern and practice” of substandard medical care at the Adelanto Detention Facility in a letter sent Tuesday to U.S. Justice Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.
The letter calls on the Justice Department to launch an investigation into the facility and for ICE to stop its expansion there, including the ongoing transfer of female and gay, bisexual and transgender detainees into the center.
“ICE is supposed to be taking care of these detainees,” said Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park), a lead writer of the letter. “We need to have greater oversight.”
The letter highlights nearly a dozen cases of alleged neglect, including the 2012 pneumonia death of a Mexican immigrant named Fernando Dominguez. An inspection report that year by the Department of Homeland Security said that Dominguez “received an unacceptable level of medical care” at Adelanto, and that his death could have been prevented.
It also raises questions about the death this year of Adelanto detainee Raul Ernesto Morales-Ramos, a Salvadoran immigrant who apparently died of undiagnosed intestinal cancer after being detained by ICE for more than four years. Morales-Ramos had lodged multiple complaints with Adelanto’s medical staff about worsening symptoms, according to his family's attorney.
ICE spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea did not comment directly on the allegations in the letter but said the agency “takes very seriously the health, safety and welfare of those in our care.”
A spokesman for Geo Group, the Florida-based prison company that runs the Adelanto facility and many other immigrant detention centers around the country, said he could not comment on specific medical cases mentioned in the letter.
But Geo spokesman Pablo Paez said his company “provides comprehensive, around the clock medical services" and noted that the Adelanto facility is audited by ICE on a routine and unannounced basis and is also independently accredited by the American Correctional Association. The detention center “received a perfect score of 100%” during its most recent ACA audit, he said.
Geo recently expanded its facility in the high desert city of Adelanto by 650 beds, bringing the total number of beds there to nearly 2,000. The facility was formerly only for male detainees but now has the capacity to hold women as well as gay, bisexual and transgender detainees who request separate accommodations from the male population, according to ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice. Eleven women have already been transferred there, she said.
Geo is paid from $50 to $111 a day for every individual housed at the facility, depending on how many beds are filled, Kice said. All of ICE’s 400 facilities are subject to regular inspections and must comply with a set of standards, she said.
A 2014 inspection found multiple problems at the Adelanto detention center, including the misreporting of sexual abuse allegations, but not with the center's medical care. A review of several detainees' cases "found medical care provided was appropriate and timely," according to the inspection.
Geo has faced allegations of medical neglect at other jails and prisons.
In 2012 the Department of Justice released a report finding “systematic, egregious, and dangerous practices,” including inadequate medical care, at a Geo detention center in Mississippi. At a Geo facility in Pennsylvania, seven people died in less than two years, with several deaths resulting in lawsuits alleging that the facility failed to provide adequate medical care.
According to Chu, it is in the interest of Geo, which is a publicly traded company, to keep costs low. That has ramifications for medical care provided to detainees, she said.
"It is to their benefit to cut corners,” Chu said.
The letter cites one case in which an Adelanto detainee was denied treatment for hepatitis C because “his length of stay was uncertain." Another detainee was denied treatment for a serious hip infection because it was “too expensive," according to the letter.
It also highlights the case of Gerardo Correlas, a partially paralyzed 19-year-old detainee who developed a urinary tract infection after medical staff allegedly insisted on recycling his catheters.
Michael Kaufman, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said he has heard complaints about the medical care provided at the facility since it opened in 2011. Kaufman has written multiple letters to ICE and Geo officials since then raising questions about inadaquate treatment of specific detainees.
While on occasion ICE has addressed the individual cases, larger systematic problems remain, Kaufman said.
The ACLU sent a letter to ICE in May complaining about problems with medical care at Adelanto, including extended delays in responding to detainee requests for medical treatment, over-medication of detainees with mental disabilities and the use of shackles during appointments with psychiatrists.
An ICE official wrote a letter in response, saying the agency "is committed to providing all detainees in its custody with timely, safe, humane, and appropriate treatment, including medical and mental healthcare." The official said ICE was working with Geo to make sure the facility and its medical providers would be ready to accept a larger and more diverse detainee population under the planned expansion.