No Clean Water: Asylum Seekers Hunger Strike at the Adelanto detention in San Bernardino
"You are not above the law." The crowd of protestors at the event replied, "Yea, that's right."
July 29, 2018
When conditions are such that there is no access to clean, safe drinking water, or edible food, the only way to be heard is to go on a hunger strike. This is exactly what a group of eight asylum seekers did at the Adelanto detention facility, in San Bernardino, on June 12th, 2017.
After an arduous journey, these eight Central American men arrived at the southern border of United States seeking political asylum in May, 2017.
They were forced to flee El Salvador and Honduras, their home countries, after becoming targets of violent criminal organizations, such as the M-13 gang that have been recently condemned by the United States.
Immediately after the refugees arrived in America, they were taken into the custody of ICE and dumped at Adelanto Detention Center, run by the GEO Group in the City of Adelanto.
GEO Group is a private company based in Boca Raton, Florida. The employees of GEO are subcontractors with the City of Adelanto and paid with federal funds as a service provider of detention services for ICE, which is one of its clients.
At a press event in Los Angeles, it was announced on Tuesday, that these eight asylum seekers filed a civil rights lawsuit against ICE, GEO Group and the City of Adelanto.
Civil rights attorney, Rachel Steinback, who led the press conference, said, "From the moment they arrived there, the Geo Group guards defaced, degraded, humiliated and ridiculed the men."
The men, according to Steinback, were law abiding asylum seekers who were treated worse than the worse criminals and saddled with impossibly high bonds.
Their complaints included excessively high bail, inadequate medical care, inedible food, and no access to clean or safe water.
In response to the depraved conditions at Adelanto, these eight men bonded together and decided to peacefully begin a hunger strike and present a handwritten list of their concerns to ICE officials.
"For surely, they thought if ICE knew, these terrible conditions would come to an end. They were wrong," Steinback said.
At the press event, Steinback recounted the journey that the eight men took that led them to filing the lawsuit.
After the men began the hunger strike, GEO guards were summoned to physically restrain them, while a GEO sergeant emptied two canisters of pepper spray all over their bodies. As the men twisted in agony, the guards then beat them and threw them into the concrete walls and floor.
About an hour later, the men were thrown into scalding hot showers in their pepper spray- drenched clothing.
After the shower, the men were taken into segregation where they were left for ten days, shut off from the outside world. They were barred from accessing their lawyers, advocates and families. All they had done was to try to speak up about the mistreatment that they and other migrants were experiencing at Adelanto.
Steinback said that we can all agree that what these men experienced was "truly grotesque."
Their torture, according to Steinback, did not end there. When they finally were allowed to speak to their asylum attorneys, one of the attorneys who was horrified, wrote a letter of complaint to GEO Group. In response to the letter, the GEO guards sealed the men off from lawyers and prevented the men from calling them.
Steinback said at the press event and rally, that she is sending a message for ICE and GEO Group. "You are not above the law."
The crowd of protestors at the event, said, "Yea, that's right."
One of the eight asylum seekers who was present at the event, Alexander Antonio Burgos Mejia, from Honduras, gave his testimonial and then said, "I am seeking justice more than anything because we are being discriminated." He also said, "Abuse has to end."
In an email response to the lawsuit allegations against GEO Group, Pablo E. Paez, Executive Vice President, Corporate Relations, wrote on behalf of the GEO Group.
"These claims are completely baseless. The incident in question was reviewed by U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement which found that the officers acted in accordance with established protocol. We will vigorously defend our company against these frivolous allegations.
Our 23,000 GEO employees around the world are proud of our record in managing facilities with high-quality services in safe, secure, and humane environments. Members of our team strive to treat all of those entrusted to our care with compassion, dignity, and respect."
ICE did not comment because of the agency's policy of not commenting on pending litigation.
According to the lawsuit, Adelanto, operated by GEO Group has been considered the "deadliest immigration detention center in the country." The abuses there have been documented by Human Rights Watch.
Asylum seeker from El Salvador, Josue Mateo Lemus Campos, who was present at the event said, "Authorities do not act in a professional manner with the people that are being detained." He also said, "I'll tell people that are abused to speak up."
Campos was pepper sprayed, handcuffed, and beaten at Adelanto. The GEO guards then forced him to stand in a scalding hot shower in his pepper spray-drenched clothing. He suffered sustained burns, severe bruising around his body and severe shoulder pain. Even with many requests, Campos never received adequate medical care for his injuries.
"I imagine that officers that come into the detention center would know how to treat the detained. I imagine that officials should receive training," Campos said.
Steinback said, "In this lawsuit we are looking to get justice for these men and to show the world the abuse that GEO Group and other prison groups are inflicting on these innocent law -abiding migrants who are simply seeking refuge and safety."
Seven of the eight asylum seekers are presently released on bond as a result of community support and living in freedom in the United States.