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ACLU Sues ICE to Reduce Detainee Population at Adelanto Detention Center

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The following article was originally published April 14, 2020, and republished through a collaboration with KPCC and LAist.

Story by Elly Yu

The ACLU of Southern California has filed a federal lawsuit against U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement, demanding the release of detainees at Adelanto ICE Processing Center in San Bernardino County due to concerns over coronavirus.

The lawsuit was filed Monday along with Latham & Watkins LLP. It says conditions at the 1,940-bed facility make it impossible for people to remain 6 feet apart, and it asks a judge to order the release of enough detainees to allow proper physical distancing.

Lawyers say up to eight people are housed together in one cell, with bunk beds just 2½ to 3 feet apart; the suit also claims detainees have little to no access to gloves, masks and hand sanitizer. From the suit:

"Given the population density inside Adelanto and the practical impossibility of achieving social distancing under current conditions, it is very likely that hundreds of people inside Adelanto, as well as many of the staff who work there, will contract COVID-19."

An ICE spokesperson said the agency does not comment on pending litigation. The spokesperson said that "ICE remains fully committed to ensuring that those in our custody reside in a safe, secure, and clean environment, and that our staff and facility adhere strictly to the National Detention Standards (NDS). Anything contrary to that is simply false, and not reflective of the agency."

Adelanto U.S. Immigration and Enforcement Processing Center. | Chris Carlson/AP
Adelanto U.S. Immigration and Enforcement Processing Center. | Chris Carlson/AP

On its website, the agency said it has limited the intake of new detainees since March. It also said it has identified for release at least 160 detainees nationwide who may be at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19.

Earlier this month, Federal Judge Terry J. Hatter ordered the release of six detainees with underlying medical conditions from Adelanto, and judges around the country have ordered similar releases. In Massachusetts last week, a federal judge has ordered the release of ICE detainees on a rolling basis.

As of Tuesday, at least 77 detainees have tested positive for COVID-19 across the country, according to ICE, including 15 at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego. None so far have been listed as positive at Adelanto.

UPDATES:

April 14, 1:09 p.m.: This article was updated with a response from ICE.

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