Immigrant advocacy groups are protesting the expansion of Southern California's largest immigrant detention center, arguing the federal government should instead be directing resources to children seeking asylum.
The sprawling detention complex in the high desert town of Adelanto has the capacity to hold 1,300 men. The construction project underway will add 650 beds, including a women's housing unit.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials say the expansion is necessary in order to meet demand for more bed space in the Los Angeles area. According to ICE spokeswoman Virgina Kice, the agency seeks whenever possible to house detainees near the area of their arrest.
But opponents have raised questions about conditions at the Adelanto facility, saying detainees have reported receiving inadequate healthcare and poor quality food. The center's remote location 40 miles north of San Bernardino also makes it difficult for attorneys and families to visit, they say.
Immigrant advocates have long opposed a federal quota that requires the government to pay for 34,000 beds in detention centers each night. They say the government should not be spending to expand its detention system for immigrants, especially as the country grapples with how to house a recent influx of asylum-seeking minors from Central America.
"Resources should go to help the children seeking asylum, not to grow private prisons," said Luis Nolasco, a member of the Justice For Immigrants Coalition, which has been collecting donations for immigrant children who have recently arrived in the Inland Empire.
The Adelanto facility houses detainees in ICE custody who are waiting for a decision in their immigration cases or are waiting to be repatriated. Detainees wear prison-style jumpsuits and often stay there for months at a time.
The facility is run by GEO Group, a private company from Florida. GEO is contracted by the city of Adelanto, which signed an intergovernmental service agreement with ICE to house detainees.
Officials in Adelanto support the expansion, which they say will help the town's struggling economy, which is grappling with an 18% unemployment rate. The city, which also faces a $2.6-million budget deficit, earns 75 cents each 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 residents 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, several immigrant advocacy groups asked U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) to tour the facility at Adelanto, where she spent three hours walking the grounds, sampling the food in the cafeteria and browsing the resources available in the center's law library.
Speaking to immigrant advocates protesting outside, Chu said she did not notice anything especially worrisome about the facility, 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 of the facility carried out by the Office for Detention Oversight.