Attorney General Becerra Releases Second Report on Immigration Detention Facilities in California
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today announced the release of the California Department of Justice’s (DOJ) second report on immigration detention facilities operating in the state. The report reflects significant changes in the immigration detention system in California since the initial report and comes as the nation is in the midst of a struggle to control and prevent outbreaks of COVID-19, to which detainees and staff are particularly vulnerable. Ultimately, this latest report is intended to increase transparency and help give policymakers, community organizations, journalists, and other stakeholders critical information about the conditions under which civil immigration detainees are living.
“No matter your circumstance or where you come from, every human being deserves to be treated with dignity and respect,” said Attorney General Becerra. “That includes immigrants who are in civil detention while their cases are being processed. This report is fundamentally about recognizing that basic fact. It shines a light on conditions of confinement. California demands it and we all benefit from increased transparency. One of the core measures of who we are as a country is how we treat those in our care. I’m grateful to everyone who helped make this report possible and to the individuals in civil detention whose assistance was critical in highlighting these systemic challenges.”
In 2017, the California Legislature enacted Assembly Bill 103, requiring DOJ to review and report on immigration detention facilities through July 1, 2027, in response to growing concerns regarding conditions in facilities in California. These concerns are ongoing with respect to the five adult immigration detention facilities that remain in operation in the state. For this report, DOJ, building on in-depth analysis from the initial report, conducted new extensive reviews of three privately-operated detention facilities: the Adelanto ICE Processing Center, the Imperial Regional Detention Facility, and the Otay Mesa Detention Center. Although DOJ’s latest site visits were conducted prior to the pandemic, the report incorporates insights from those reviews and subsequent attorney surveys to analyze conditions and barriers to due process that occurred both as a result of the pandemic and other underlying systemic issues. Those initial findings prompted the Attorney General, in April of 2020, to urge the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to take immediate action to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in immigration detention facilities, including by considering alternatives to detention. As part of the review process for this report, DOJ staff — alongside correctional, medical, and mental health experts — toured each facility, interviewed staff and detainees, and reviewed and analyzed logs, policies, detainee records, and other documents to develop an understanding of the conditions of confinement and standards of care across the facilities.
Although conditions vary drastically within and across immigration detention facilities in the state, DOJ — in addition to a thorough analysis of each of the three facilities examined in this report — identified a number of systemic challenges, including with regards to:
- Security Classification Systems, where it is relatively difficult for detainees to receive a low custody score and easier to receive a high custody score that is determined by looking back at prior arrests and convictions, but largely ignores mitigating factors such as contributing to the community prior to detention and getting along well with others while in custody;
- Restrictive Housing Conditions, where detainees may be held in isolation for many months for non-punitive purposes such as protective custody, in conditions similar to the isolation that is used for discipline, and where many detainees who suffer from mental health conditions experience worsening symptoms due to extreme isolation; and
- Language Access, where language barriers prevent detainees — except those who speak and read English, and to a lesser extent Spanish — from being able to access basic education programming and legal materials or understand essential communications and medical request forms.
While the average number of immigrants in adult civil immigration detention facilities across the nation decreased from 37,876 detainees in February of 2020 to 19,989 detainees in September of 2020, the overall average length of detention significantly increased during the same period from an average of 56.1 days to 91.3 days. At the time of DOJ’s comprehensive review of the three facilities highlighted in this report, the average length of stay for detainees ranged from 103.2 days to 126 days, with one detainee housed at the Otay Mesa Detention Center for 1,515 days. In those three facilities, there were more than 3,200 detainees from over 90 different countries, including Mexico, India, El Salvador, Cameroon, Honduras, Guatemala, Cuba, and China.
A copy of the full report is available here.