Op-Ed: Christina Fialho and Grisel Ruiz: CA’s Attorney General Reveals Abuses in Immigration Detention Conditions Report

SAN FRANCISCO, CA, Feb. 26, 2019  — The State Attorney General’s office released its first report today on immigration detention conditions in California, which found that immigrants face prolonged periods of confinement, significant language barriers, medical and mental health access issues, visitation and communication obstacles, and lack of access to legal representation.

Said Christina Fialho, a California attorney and the co-founder/executive director of Freedom for Immigrants:

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What’s happening to detained individuals in California mirrors our immigration detention system as a whole. This report is more than a chronicling of conditions, it is a call to action. We must work to end this inhumane system,”

The report confirms and reinforces what we have documented — that California immigrant jails and prisons are rife with abuse and have led to a toxic culture of impunity fueled by taxpayer money at the expense of thousands of lives.

However, since inspections were announced, the monitoring efforts failed to demand full transparency from ICE and prison operators. If we truly want to know what’s happening inside detention, we shouldn’t be giving them a pass by telling them when to be on their best behavior.

We are grateful to Attorney General Xavier Becerra for undertaking this effort to shine a light on one of the most opaque institutions in our country: immigration detention. But we must do more. We must encourage our federal legislators to champion legislation that provides more funding for oversight and works to decrease detention while increasing community-based alternatives. That is why we have worked with Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) to introduce the Detention Oversight Not Expansion (DONE) Act.

Grisel Ruiz, Staff Attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center said:

The report released today by State Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office describes the disturbing conditions under which immigrants are detained in state facilities, confirming what we already know: that the need for transparency, oversight, and accountability in California’s detention centers is more urgent than ever.

Bold steps must be taken to end this inhumane system. California lawmakers must take notice of the troubling findings in the Attorney General’s report and take swift action to improve not only conditions in immigration detention centers, but to pass legislation that protects immigrants from getting swept up in our nation’s mass incarceration system. California can and should lead the nation when it comes to enacting policies that ensure justice and dignity for immigrants and communities of color. Our federal elected officials must work to entirely end this abusive and unnecessary practice now.

The Attorney General’s report is mandated by Assembly Bill 103, a California budget bill that passed in the summer of 2017 and gives the State Attorney General the power to monitor all California immigration detention facilities. AB 103 also appropriated $1 million annually over the next 10 years for oversight purposes. Freedom for Immigrants (formerly CIVIC) and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) consulted on AB 103’s provisions.

Freedom for Immigrants is devoted to abolishing immigration detention, while ending the isolation of people currently suffering in this profit-driven system. We are the only nonprofit in the country monitoring the human rights abuses faced by immigrants detained by ICE through a national hotline and network of volunteer detention visitors, while also modeling a community-based alternative to detention that welcomes immigrants into the social fabric of the United States. Through these windows into the system, we gather data and stories to combat injustice at the individual level and push systemic change.

The Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) is a national nonprofit that works with immigrants, community organizations, legal professionals, and policy makers to build a democratic society that values diversity and the rights of all people. Through community education programs, legal training & technical assistance, and policy development & advocacy, the ILRC works to protect and defend the fundamental rights of immigrant families and communities.