@EndIsolation & @ACLU_SoCal call on ICE to Reinstate Community-Based Visitation Programs
- Christina Fialho, Co-Executive Director, CIVIC 385-212-4842 (385-21-CIVIC), CFialho@endisolation.org
- Victoria Mena, Program Coordinator, Friends of Adelanto Detainees 352-562-1386, V.Mena80@gmail.com
- ACLU SoCal: Diana Rubio 213.977.5252 or firstname.lastname@example.org
ICE Suspends CIVIC-Affiliated Visitation Programs in Response to CIVIC’s Public Criticism of Detention Conditions
LOS ANGELES – Today, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement(CIVIC)—a national group working to end the isolation and abuse of people in immigration detention through visitation—and the ACLU of Southern California (ACLU SoCal), along with other legal service providers and advocates, sent two letters requesting that ICE reinstate community visitation programs immediately. The agency suspended the visitation programs at three detention centers in Southern California following public comments by CIVIC’s co-executive director criticizing ICE’s treatment of detainees.
In partnership with ICE, CIVIC helps facilitate civic groups, faith-based groups and other community members to meet with people in immigration detention, many of whom are separated from their families and suffer from extreme loneliness and depression. There are currently 28 CIVIC-affiliated groups across the country, including two in Southern California: Friends of Orange County Detainees, which has conducted visits at the Santa Ana City Jail and James A. Musick Facility since 2012, and the Friends of Adelanto Detainees, which recently was approved by ICE and began visits at the Adelanto Detention Center. Together, the two groups have more than 130 volunteers.
These programs were abruptly suspended on July 24th, shortly after Christina Fialho, CIVIC’s CoExecutive Director, published a blog post on the Huffington Post in which she criticized ICE’s treatment of LGBT detainees and called for certain reforms. In subsequent conversations with ICE’s national office, ICE made clear that it suspended the programs because of Ms. Fialho’s blog post and because of certain Facebook posts by visitor volunteers that were critical of conditions at detention centers. ICE requested that CIVIC and its volunteers remove the Facebook posts and cease public criticism of ICE.
“Visitation programs have always feared speaking up when they see injustices and abuses in immigration detention facilities for fear of retaliation from ICE or the facilities. The suspension of these three programs confirms those fears,” explained Ms. Fialho. “In the past, CIVIC has witnessed people in detention thrown into solitary confinement and transferred away from communities of support when we speak up about basic conditions and human rights abuses. We have seen individual visitors who have spoken up prevented from entering detention facilities, but this is the first time we have seen ICE take the drastic step of suspending three visitation programs in their entirety.”
“We don’t receive funding from the government, and we never signed anything saying that we wouldn’t speak up when we see abuses or when we are concerned for our friends in detention,” added Victoria Mena, program coordinator for the Friends of Adelanto Detainees in California. “In fact, we have done the only thing anybody would when learning about these sorts of situations—we spoke up, and now we are barred from any access to the facility.”
ICE’s actions are contrary to ICE’s stated commitment to transparency in its detention programs. ICE’s 2011 Detention Standards stress ICE’s support for “the provision of public access to nonclassified, non-sensitive and non-confidential information about its operations.” The Detention Standards recognize the importance of allowing detainees, the media, and community members to speak freely, providing that “[a]ccess will not be denied based on the political or editorial viewpoint of the requestor,” and that facilities should not “in any way retaliate against a detainee for lawful communication with a member of the media or a member of the public.” ICE’s actions betray those commitments, and appear to be retaliation for CIVIC and its volunteers’ First Amendment protected
right to expression.
“There’s no question that the visitation programs would still be operating today had CIVIC publicly praised ICE, rather than criticized ICE’s treatment of detainees,” said Michael Kaufman, staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California. “The suspensions raise grave First Amendment concerns, and give the clear appearance that ICE is trying to silence its critics and shield the public’s awareness of detention conditions.”
The letters request that ICE immediately reinstate the visitation programs, and issue a public statement explaining its actions.
To learn more about what has happened to these community-based groups, join them for a vigil outside the Adelanto Facility (10400 Rancho Rd, Adelanto, CA), Tuesday, August 6th at 2pm. Speakers will include visitors, community and faith leaders, as well as family members with loved ones at the facility and individuals who have been detained. There are scheduled carpools to attend the vigil, coming from as far away as Santa Barbara, Ventura, Conejo Valley, Los Angeles, Orange County, and the Inland Empire.
- Link to Letter from CIVIC, Friends of Orange County Detainees, and Friends of Adelanto Detainees to ICE
- Link to Letter from the ACLU of Southern California and other legal service providers to ICE