An extensive privately run detention center in the wind-swept California desert city of Adelanto could house nearly 2,000 migrants at the prospect of being deported. These days, though, it’s almost empty.
The Adelanto facility is an extreme example of how the U.S. government’s use of guaranteed minimum payments in contracts with private companies to house detained immigrants could have a potential financial inconvenience. In these contracts, the government agrees to pay a certain number of beds, whether used or not.
The government pays at least 1,455 beds a day in Adelanto, but so far this fiscal year reports an average daily population of 49 detainees. Immigrant advocates say the number of detainees in Adelanto is now approaching two dozen because authorities cannot introduce more migrants according to a 2020 judge ruling related to the pandemic.
The U.S. government pays to ensure that 30,000 immigrant detention beds are available at four dozen facilities across the country, but so far this fiscal year about half, on average, have been occupied, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement data. For the past two years, immigrant detention facilities in the United States have been underused, as authorities have been forced to separate detainees, in some cases, such as Adelanto, by court order, to limit the propagation of Covid-19.
“The government still pays them to keep the facilities open,” said Lizbeth Abeln, director of defense against the deportation of the Coalition for Immigrant Justice in Southern California. “It’s very worrying that they’re still being paid for all the beds every day. It’s empty.”
At a facility in Tacoma, Washington, the guaranteed minimum is 1,181 beds and the average daily population so far this fiscal year is 369, according to official data. A detention center in Jena, Louisiana, has a minimum of 1,170 beds, with an average daily population of 452.
The ICE currently reports 23,390 detainees in prison, according to official data. The agency has long spent money on unused detention facilities by including guaranteed minimum payments in its contracts, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office focusing on the years leading up to the pandemic. The minimum number of beds the government paid to guarantee increased by 45% from fiscal year 2017 to May 2020, according to the report.
ICE headquarters officials were asked to comment and initially did not. On Monday, an agency spokesman said in an email that the ICE is not commenting on the pending litigation and is complying with the court’s order on Adelanto.
In the annual budget documents, officials said the agency intends to use between 85% and 90% of the overall detention space and pays to have guaranteed minimum beds ready to operate in case they are needed. Officials wrote that they need flexibility to deal with emergencies or large sudden increases in border crossings. They said security and safety are the top priority in detention centers, although they acknowledge that the pandemic “has greatly reduced the use of beds.”
The average cost of a detention bed was $ 144 a day during the last fiscal year, according to documents.
Immigrant advocates say the pandemic is proof that the United States does not need to detain immigrants as much as authorities have claimed. Deportation agents have increased the use of a monitoring app to monitor immigrants targeting deportation hearings instead of closing people, they said. In June, the agency was tracking more than 200,000 people using the SmartLink app, according to government data.
“The federal government, probably like all of us, didn’t think Covid would last that long,” said Michael Kaufman, a senior attorney for the Southern California Civil Liberties Union, who demanded the release of the detainees in Advance. “This has been an accidental test case that shows they don’t need a detention capability close to what they’re saying.”
The Adelanto facility, run by The Geo Group, based in Boca Raton, Florida, is one of the largest in the country and often hosts immigrants arrested in the greater Los Angeles area. It has been the subject of complaints by detainees for poor medical care, and in a 2018 visit to facility inspectors they also found ties to detainees ’cells and too restrictive segregation.
In August 2019, more than 1,600 detainees were detained at the facility 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles, according to a state report.
Shortly after the impact of the Covid-19, immigrant advocates sued over security concerns. U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter prevented the ICE from introducing new detainees and limited the number of detainees to 475. He ordered that detainees be spaced out and have space to lie down, walk, and use the bathroom and toilet. shower, and pointed out an unknown number of staff and detainees. he wore no masks.
“This case involves human lives whose reasonable security has the right to be enforced and protected by the Court in accordance with the United States Constitution,” Hatter wrote in 2021.
Since then, immigration authorities have brought new detainees to a 750-bed annex in Adelanto that was once a state prison. But immigrant advocates said the annex also works well below employment.
Geo, who also manages the annex, declined to comment and sent all questions to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Thomas P. Giles, director of the ICE field office for execution and deportation operations in Greater Los Angeles, said limited bed space locally means some immigrants detained in Southern California they could be moved to another location.
“Here in Los Angeles, we only have a limited amount of space for the bed, so some of the people we arrest, if we don’t have space for the bed, we’ll move them to Phoenix or Atlanta or another part of the country. in bed space, ”Giles said during a recent interview. “This doesn’t necessarily affect our operations, but it puts more logistics into it.”
In Adelanto, the Department of Justice runs immigration courts where detainees have deportation cases. Judges in these chambers are currently hearing cases of immigrants from other parts of the country on video due to declining numbers at desert facilities, said Immigration Judge Mimi Tsankov, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges.
Over time, hundreds of detainees have been released on bail or for health problems or deported, and some wings of the facility have been closed, said Eva Bitran, a lawyer for ACLU staff.
“It’s a huge waste of resources,” he said.