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A California City Cut Ties to ICE—but Its Detention Center Will Stay Open

It's the latest sign that the agency is finding ways to get around a state law restricting immigration detention, a trend that concerns immigration advocacy groups.
Immigrant detainees at the Adelanto Detention Facility engage in prayer.

Immigrant detainees at the Adelanto Detention Facility engage in prayer.

A controversial private immigration detention center in Adelanto, California, will remain open despite the city's decision to end its contract with the facility, according to a document posted to a federal contracting website on Thursday. The decision is just the latest sign that Immigration and Customs Enforcement is finding ways to get around a California law that restricts the growth of immigration detention, a trend that concerns immigration advocacy groups.

California's law, passed in 2017, prohibits local governments from expanding their existing immigration detention contracts or entering into new ones. Since the law passed, more cities and counties in the state have also decided to end their existing contracts with ICE. In March, Adelanto became the latest city to pull out of its detention agreement, announcing that it would end a three-way contract with ICE and the private prison company GEO Group to detain up to 1,940 immigrants a day in the remote desert facility.

But the move raised concerns among advocates, who feared that ICE would keep the facility open by contracting directly with GEO Group. A direct contract would allow ICE to expand the detention center, since California's law doesn't restrict contracts between ICE and private companies. As I reported in May, a new contract between ICE and GEO could also prevent the city of Adelanto from establishing an oversight committee to inspect conditions at the detention center:

For some lawyers, the idea of Adelanto staying open without local oversight is particularly alarming. Last year, a scathing Department of Homeland Security report identified "serious violations" of ICE detention standards at the facility and noted that at least seven detainees had attempted suicide in recent years. (GEO Group has disputed some of the findings and said that others have been fixed.)

The notice posted to the Federal Business Opportunities website on Thursday seems to confirm advocates' fears, announcing ICE's intention to keep the detention center open through at least 2020.

In the document, ICE argues that it can't close Adelanto because transferring the detainees to other facilities "could result in serious injury to the detainees as well as incur an unnecessary serious financial burden." (Earlier this year, the agency used similar reasoning to the keep open the Mesa Verde Detention Facility when the city of McFarland, California, ended its ICE contract.)

Immigration advocacy groups took issue with ICE's reasoning, saying the agency doesn't need to transfer immigrants to other detention centers.

"That argument presupposes a universe in which ICE has no discretion to release individuals in that facility," says Hamid Yazdan Panah, the advocacy director at the California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice. "But they actually have discretion to release a lot of people."

ICE doesn't seem likely to use that discretion any time soon. As I wrote last month, the agency recently announced that it's looking for space to detain up to 5,600 immigrants in California, which means that it could soon be detaining even more people in Adelanto.