Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) bars detained immigrants from meeting with volunteer visitors, part of a crackdown on visitation in immigration detention facilities across Southern California.
Victoria Mena, coordinator of the Friends of Adelanto Detainees visitation program, arrived on Friday, July 26th, at the Adelanto Detention Center in the Mojave Desert. For weeks she'd been visiting and checking in on Mr. S*, an immigrant father of two U.S. citizens, on days when his family was unable to make the trip to the desert. Without an explanation, ICE informed Mena that day that her name was on a no access list, and that she was forbidden to visit anyone at the facility.
"The purpose of the Friends of Adelanto Detainees program is to end the isolation that the men at this immigration detention facility are going through. The guys at this center are far away from their family and friends, and have no real connection to the outside world. Some are in really dark places, and it means a lot to have someone to talk to, to share an hour with. We saw the impact it had on the faces of those we visited with," Mena said.
Mena's visitation program is part of a national visitation movement, and her program is similar to the 27 other immigration detention visitation programs in 14 states. The movement to end isolation has grown from just a handful of visitor volunteers with four programs in 2009 to over 700 volunteers across the country today. This rapid growth has been in large part due to the support of a national organization, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC).
Recognizing the visitation movement's growing power, ICE began to crack down on three Southern California visitation programs, Friends of Adelanto Detainees and two Orange County programs. CIVIC's co-executive director, Christina Fialho, recently wrote a blog post on the Huffington Post criticizing the lack of leadership and independent oversight at ICE. Less than 48-hours after the Huffington Post published Fialho's blog, ICE suspended the three visitation programs operating at the Adelanto Detention Center, the James Musick Facility, and the Santa Ana City Jail.
"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 who submitted a letter to ICE last week in support of CIVIC. "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."
"Friends of Adelanto Detainees and visitor volunteers across the country aren't asking for much," said Fialho. "We're simply asking for the right to visit. At a time in our nation's history where there seems to be a near-total lack of transparent and accountable governance when it comes to civilian surveillance, it is crucial that civilians continue to have the ability to visit our friends and family in immigration detention to ensure proper treatment behind locked doors."
Sarah Shourd is an author and Contributing Editor at Solitary Watch currently based in Oakland, California. She is also an Ambassador for CIVIC and spent 410 days in solitary confinement while held as a political hostage by the Iranian Government in 2009-2010.
Note: *Mr. S's name has been withheld for his safety and those of his supporters. To support the efforts to get Friends of Adelanto Detainees' members names removed from ICE's no access list and to call for an end to the expansion of immigration detention, please sign the Friends of Adelanto Detainees' petition!