SAN FRANCISCO, June 26, 2023 – The ACLU Foundation of Northern California (ACLU NorCal) today launched the California Immigration Detention Database, a new tool to track formal complaints, also known as grievances, that immigrants detained in California detention facilities have filed to seek redress against the inhumane conditions of their confinement. It is a first-of-its kind resource for people in California detention facilities, their families, and advocates who are interested in exposing abuse and constitutional violations within those facilities, and in lobbying for their closure.
The public will be able to track grievance trends over time within each of California’s six immigration detention facilities through an interactive chart. ACLU NorCal will publish periodic reports summarizing key trends and highlighting individual stories from people in detention. The database currently reflects information collected from over 200 grievances that people in detention have shared directly with ACLU NorCal since January 2023. They document inadequate medical care, unsanitary living conditions, and staff misconduct, among other degradations to the conditions of their civil detainment.
The database and interactive chart will be updated with additional data points periodically, as more people in detention share their documents—and if Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) makes public its record of grievances from California detention facilities.
On June 23, 2023, ACLU NorCal sued ICE for failing to respond to the organization’s Freedom of Information Act requests and withholding information on grievances filed within California immigration detention centers.
“We are committed to working alongside people in detention to expose the cruelty of the immigration detention system—even as ICE fails to come clean about its oversight of facilities marred by systemic neglect and abuse,” said Sana Singh, Immigrants’ Rights Fellow at the ACLU Foundation of Northern California. “We hope that, in exposing the futility of the grievance system, this project will show that immigration detention is not a system that can be reformed; it must be dismantled.”
California holds the third-largest immigration detention population in the country. All six ICE detention facilities in the state are run by private, for-profit prison companies that have executed lucrative contracts with ICE, requiring the federal government to pay them hundreds of millions of dollars per year to warehouse people in their facilities. Immigrant rights advocates argue that these private contracts incentivize incarceration, breed impunity, and cause needless suffering for people in detention.
People detained in California’s ICE detention centers have long decried the futility of the grievance system which, according to ICE regulations, is meant to provide a procedure by which people can ask for a response from detention center staff “relating to any aspect of their detention, including medical care.”
Many of the grievances in ACLU NorCal’s possession, and currently reflected in the database, were filed at the Mesa Verde ICE Detention Facility in Bakersfield, Calif., between February 2023 to March 2023—concurrent with a hunger strike that approximately 82 people launched at Mesa Verde and another facility, Golden State Annex in McFarland, Calif., to demand their release and the shutdown of both facilities. The strike was met with brutal retaliation.
Jose Ruben Hernandez Gomez was formerly incarcerated at Mesa Verde and participated in the hunger strike after failing to receive meaningful responses to his grievances.
“I want people to know that the grievance system is the only way for us to address violations in immigration detention centers,” he said. “But that system is being neglected. Staff throughout the chain of command continuously deny everything and cover themselves up, so people in detention are left with no one to turn to, nowhere to go. If that can’t be corrected, we shouldn’t be incarcerating people in these detention centers.”
Read our blog to hear from people in detention.