Detainees moved to other facilities

Times Staff Writer

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency Saturday moved a number of detainees out of its immigration detention center on Terminal Island so the aging facility can be renovated, officials said.

The agency would not say how many people were transferred or where they were sent, but attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union said they were told that more than 100 detainees were moved to centers around the nation, including ones in Texas and Alabama, and that transfers would continue.

Immigration attorneys said they were not informed about the transfers ahead of time and do not know where their clients are now being housed.

“The need for preventative maintenance was identified during a facility evaluation by ICE and private-sector experts as part of our ongoing assessment process,” agency spokeswoman Virginia Kice said in a written statement. “ICE is taking extraordinary and costly measures to ensure the well-being of our detainee population.”


The statement said the relocations were temporary and that the agency took into account detainees’ criminal histories and medical conditions and the status of their legal cases in making the transfers.

The detainees are facing deportation, and many are in the legal process of fighting to stay in the United States. Some were arrested after committing crimes, overstaying visas or failing to abide by deportation orders. Others landed in detention after their petitions for asylum or green cards were denied.

Kice declined to comment on whether all detainees would be transferred from Terminal Island or about the center’s future.

ACLU attorney Ahilan Arulanantham said he called the center early Saturday and was told that the client he was trying to reach was no longer there and was among many detainees who were moved. “It’s a serious injustice by the government to transfer detainees far away without notifying their attorneys, especially when they have hearings upcoming, and now they are going to have to wait months more in detention before they get their day in court,” he said.


Arulanantham said he has dozens of clients at the center and that now he does not know if they are still there. “I don’t know where they are,” he said. “I have to hope that they will call sometime. It’s a nightmare.”

The move comes two months after the facility lost accreditation from the American Correctional Assn. for failing to meet standards. Kice said that decision was based on a maintenance issue but declined to elaborate. She said the transfers did not have to do with the loss of accreditation. Saturday’s statement said ICE continuously inspects its detention centers.

ICE has been criticized in recent months after the July death of a detainee with AIDS, one of more than 60 deaths in immigration detention since 2004. ACLU attorneys said the detainee was denied vital medical treatment.

The Terminal Island facility, which opened in 1938 as an immigration processing center and has been used for detention for 16 years, has a capacity of 450 detainees. It is one of 400 facilities nationwide, including eight owned and operated by ICE.