Aug. 19-- A lawsuit filed Monday alleges that immigration detention authorities have failed to ensure that tens of thousands of immigrants are held in safe and humane conditions as required by federal law and the U.S. Constitution.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of 55,000 detainees and future detainees in 160 ICE detention centers across the country. Many of the larger detention centers are under contract with Geo Group, based in Boca Raton, Fla., or CoreCivic, another private contractor based in Nashville, Tenn.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles against the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency and the Department of Homeland Security by three organizations: the Southern Poverty Law Center, a non-profit group in Montgomery, Ala., that works on behalf of immigrant justice; the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center in Denver, Colo.; and Disability Rights Advocates in California and New York.
ICE is ultimately responsible for its contractors, the lawsuit says. ICE can't contract with private detention center operators and "then wash its hands of the deplorable conditions in its detention centers," Tim Fox, co-executive director, Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, said on a conference call Monday announcing the lawsuit.
Elissa Johnson, senior supervising attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said ICE's decision to detain tens of thousands of people "is an unending mass incarceration. ... We filed this lawsuit because we want to force ICE to comply with the law."
A Geo Group spokesman said the company rejects the "baseless allegations" in the lawsuit.
At the 12 immigrant-processing centers where Geo is responsible for medical services, "we provide 24/7 access to health care free of charge; are supported by professional teams including full-time physicians, a full-time physician's assistants, a cadre of nursing services, dentists, psychologists, psychiatrists as well as referrals to local community hospitals as needed," the spokesman said.
The lawsuit asks that ICE release detainees or make alternative arrangements, such as community-based housing, if it can't ensure the safety of detainees, many who are waiting for court decisions on their requested U.S. asylum. The lawsuit doesn't seek monetary compensation for detainees.
"Immigrants are subjected to horrific, inhumane, punitive, and unlawful conditions of confinement," according to the lawsuit. Detainees have been denied doctor-recommend surgery and gone without necessary medical care, such as dosages of insulin for diabetics, and failed to provide for the needs of the disabled.
Some detainees were kept in segregation despite known issues of schizophrenia, depression and suicidal tendencies, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit says at least half of immigrant detainees are at five detention centers operated by private, for-profit companies including Geo and CoreCivic, while others are in county jails. ICE's choice to contract with these companies and its lack of oversight on immigrant care have subjected detainees to "substantial risk of serious harm," according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit points to Department of Homeland Security's own reports that are critical of the privately run detention centers.
Geo came under scrutiny in a June report by the Department of Homeland Security's inspector general, which cited mistreatment of immigrants in detention centers including three of Geo's, in California, Colorado and Louisiana. Some immigrants, who were detained after illegally crossing the U.S. border, were restrained without justification and were living in conditions of spoiled food, moldy bathrooms and limited recreation.
The company has said it has resolved the issues cited by the report, which was based on a surprise visit by investigators in 2018.
Geo is one of the largest prison and detention center contractors in the world with $2.33 billion in revenue last year. In South Florida, Geo operates the Broward Transitional Center in Deerfield Beach and the South Bay Correctional Facility.
In July, the U.S. House Oversight Committee sent Geo a letter demanding documents for investigation of ICE detention center allegations. Geo has said it is cooperating with the congressional committee.
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