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Inside the Adelanto Detention Facility

ILLUSTRATION: GABRIELLE OULLETTE

Inside the Adelanto Detention Facility
By Brion Dennis


Update 3/24/20 12:05 A.M.: This article has been updated to include new information about the Adelanto Detention Facility regarding the lawsuit made against them by the ACLU.

In early February, a small group of LMU students, faculty, and staff partnered with Freedom for Immigrants to visit the Adelanto Detention Facility. 


The Center for Service and Action’s Alternative Breaks (AB) Program has taken hundreds of LMU students on both domestic and international immersion trips focused on a social justice issue and the impacts they have on the Bluff. The AB Tucson trip, specifically, focuses on immigration law and reform and participants decided that their post-trip action plan would include a visit to a detention center. 


The Adelanto Detention Facility sits in a remote desert in San Bernardino County. It is so remote that Google Maps has not updated pictures of the facility since 2012. The detention center is virtually indistinguishable from the female and male jails located on either side. The facility is run by the GEO Group, which specializes in privatized corrections, detention centers and mental hospitals. In 2019, the federal government contracts accounted for almost half of the company’s $2.5 billion in revenue. This means that our tax dollars are going to a company that has commodified the existence of their detained groups, disproportionately Black and brown people, and turned them into a profitable business model.

The GEO Group and other private detention companies have come under scrutiny because of large scale corruption and poor treatment of their detainees. These private detention facilities are not obligated to comply with federal regulations on detention management and focus on increasing profits by any means necessary. The Department of Homeland Security has also been sued by the ACLU of Southern California, citing inadequate health and safety measures being taken by the Adelanto Detention Facility to reduce the risks of COVID-19. The lawsuit calls for a cease in the detention of new individuals and a reduction of current detainees. 


On an early Friday morning, our group loaded up a large van and drove two hours to the facility. When we arrived, we were surprised at the appearance of the interior of the facility. The waiting room resembled one you would find at a doctor’s office. At the center of the room, there were toys for children to play with. This sight made me queasy, as I realized that the children who have played with the toys probably had no idea why their parent couldn’t come home with them. We had arrived during a shift change of the corrections officers. Most of the guards were people of color. This didn’t sit well with some people in the group, but upon further discussion, we recalled remoteness of the area and that the detention facility seemed to be the only stable place of employment in the area.


We sat in the waiting room for almost an hour. Our names were called and the receptionist asked us who we were visiting. Freedom for Immigrants has a database of immigrants who have requested visitors. We were advised that if anyone asked what our relationship was with the person we chose, we were to say they were an old friend. After giving the guard all of our information, we were handed a key to a locker where we were required to place all of our belongings. We weren’t even allowed to bring in a pen or paper, so anything we learned about our new friends had to be memorized. Another 20 minutes passed. Finally, we were called in for visitation.


A metal detector. One door. Two doors. Three doors. Two minutes of waiting time in between each. We made it into a tiny room with about 20 chairs. I scanned the room looking for the person I had chosen. I tried to maintain the pretense that I knew the person I was visiting while also struggling to remember her name. Gabriela. I whispered her name and a small, young Latinx woman perked up in her seat. I walked over to her and introduced myself. 


Gabriela was born in Mexico and has lived in the United States for many years. She opened her heart to me about her experiences with immigration in the United States and her time in the facility. She is a woman of faith and it has kept her going through her two years in detention. She told me about being scared of the fights that happen inside and the lack of proper medical care. At one point, Gabriela’s stomach grumbled loudly, so loudly that she got embarrassed. She explained that she woke up at 3 a.m. that day to clean floors for a dollar a day. She was awake so late in the night that she slept through breakfast and lunch. She would have to wait for dinner, meaning her first meal of the day would be around 4 p.m. She worked that night shift regularly just so she could afford to call her family on her mom’s birthday. That dollar would only buy her a couple of minutes.


When our time came to an end, I asked her about her case for the Freedom for Immigrants database. She told me that she had been assigned a pro bono lawyer but the lawyer had not contacted her. Finding adequate legal representation in immigration cases is difficult and uncommon. She even asked if I knew people who practiced law because many of her fellow detainees didn’t have a lawyer. As we said our goodbyes, I became emotional as if I had known her for years. Gabriela is probably the strongest woman I’ve met. She has been through many traumatic events in life but her faith keeps her alive. She knows that it is unlikely that her case will have a perfect ending, but she wants to advocate for herself in the courts instead of choosing voluntary deportation.


Gabriela is one of many stories of victimization by the United States’ immigration system. This system labels her as a threat to national security. How can creating a better future for yourself or your family be dangerous?  No one should be forced to live under the current conditions of United States detention facilities. 

If you would like to become involved in the fight for immigration policy reform please visit: https://www.freedomforimmigrants.org/join-us-1

This is the opinion of Brion Dennis, a sophomore finance major from Kansas City. 

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