Adelanto Detention Center Under Fire for Protecting Migrants Amid COVID-19

The Adelanto Processing Center, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility in southern California, has recently come under fire for its treatment of migrants amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

On May 21, the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice and Freedom for Immigrants filed an official complaint to ICE and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for its usage of disinfectants on commonly touched surfaces in the facility.

In recent weeks, the complaint has garnered media attention as well as a petition to voice concerns. However, is the backlash at ICE warranted or is it simply an open borders disinformation campaign to release migrants from immigration detention? Let’s break down some of the complaint’s most controversial claims.

  • Since May 11, 2020, we have received reports multiple times per day from people in ICE detention at Adelanto regarding the negative and serious health consequences that they are suffering due to being exposed to hazardous chemicals being disseminated by the GEO Group staff.

The crux of the complaint revolves around the idea that officials in the facility are spraying “hazardous chemicals” in a weaponized manner towards migrants. This accusation couldn’t be farther from the truth as ICE must adhere to numerous detainee safety guidelines. These include using disinfectant formulas registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), following cleaning and disinfectant guidelines set by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and implementing environmental health and safety procedures from the National Detention Standards. Additionally, it would make little practical sense for ICE to deviate from these guidelines. It faces heightened scrutiny from the open borders lobby and does not want to perpetuate the negative image it already receives.

  • The disinfection spray that the facility is using is hurting us. Everyone in our facility has been having bloody noses, burning eyes, headaches and our bones have been hurting. The spray that they use is called HDQ Neutral. On the bottle it says that it has ‘Irreversible eye damage and skin burns. Avoid breathing. Do not get in eyes or on skin. Wear goggles and face shields. Wash thoroughly after using.

There is no question that disinfectants have the potential of bringing side effects to individuals. In fact, a reasonable argument can be made that any type of disinfectant could bring a side effect to an individual. What is distorted in the complaint, however, is how many individuals are actually being negatively affected by disinfectants. The personal testimony above mentions that “everyone in our facility” has been harmed by disinfectants, but later in the complaint, it states that “at least nine individuals housed in units across the facility” have shown symptoms to disinfectants.

The reality is that if only nine individuals out of the 1,300-detainee population have reported negative symptoms related to disinfectants, that means that more than 99 percent of the detained population has experienced no problems with disinfectants. While the nine detainees should be treated for their symptoms immediately, it must be acknowledged that any solution involving disinfectants will not be foolproof.

Ending the usage of disinfectants would jeopardize the entire detainee population and staff members in the facility as COVID-19 remains a threat. Removing COVID-19 safety procedures would not be something the open borders lobby or really anyone wants.

  • Furthermore we urge ICE to use its discretion to order the immediate release of all immigrants detained in Adelanto, starting with those most vulnerable, to their families and communities where they can have safe housing.

The wholesale release of migrants from detention would be reckless public policy. It would undermine our nation’s judicial system, as migrants set for deportation have already had due process and a final order of removal. And those still waiting for their court date more often than not do not have valid asylum claims and would be unlikely to show up to their hearing. The likely result is that most would disappear into the country and never be seen again. Public safety would also become potentially compromised as many of the detainees have been convicted of more serious crimes than immigration offenses. 

The idea of releasing detained migrants at this specific facility has already been ruled out by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In May, the circuit court reversed a lower-court judge’s decision requiring the release of at least 250 detainees due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

It is clear that the complaint brought by the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice and Freedom for Immigrants is riddled with distortions and appears to be a political ploy to release migrants from detention. The nine migrants who have allegedly shown symptoms should not be neglected— and they won’t be — as ICE offers a daily sick call, 24-hour emergency care, and invests more than $269 million annually on healthcare services provided to detainees.