ICE Processing Center's Medical Treatment Of Detainees Draws Scrutiny : Shots - Health News The Adelanto ICE Processing Center houses nearly 2,000 people in California. Federal, state and watchdog reviews say the Florida-based firm that runs Adelanto fails to provide adequate health care.
NPR logo

Watchdogs Cite Lax Medical And Mental Health Treatment Of ICE Detainees

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/710346141/712862546" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Watchdogs Cite Lax Medical And Mental Health Treatment Of ICE Detainees

Watchdogs Cite Lax Medical And Mental Health Treatment Of ICE Detainees

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/710346141/712862546" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Today, President Trump put forth a new idea for how to deal with overflowing immigrant detention centers - send detainees to so-called sanctuary cities.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Let's take a moment to look at the conditions for detainees in one of those facilities - the Adelanto ICE Processing Center. It's a prison-like facility north of San Bernardino, Calif. A disability rights group says it's failing to provide adequate mental health care to detainees. Reporter Sarah Varney tells us more. And just a warning - this story contains mention of suicide.

SARAH VARNEY, BYLINE: It's Saturday morning. The women of the Contreras family are in a rush, making pupusas, tamales and tacos to replace the income of Jose Contreras, who has been held at Adelanto since last June. Jose's daughter Giselle drives around in an aging minivan, collecting food orders - first a hospital, then a carwash...

GISELLE: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

VARNEY: ...Then a local bank.

GISELLE: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

VARNEY: Giselle's father crossed illegally from Guatemala 25 years ago. He worked in construction until agents picked him up and brought him to Adelanto. Giselle says her father languished there for three months without his diabetes medication. Now the guards give it to him at odd times during the day and night. She says ICE agents took his eyeglasses, so he can't read legal documents or write letters.

GISELLE: My aunt tried to take in glasses for him. But they don't allow for us to give them anything. They tell us that they give them everything that they need.

VARNEY: And does your dad have glasses now?

GISELLE: No, he doesn't.

VARNEY: Her father is terrified of being deported. And she says the regimented world inside Adelanto is driving him into a deep depression.

GISELLE: His conversations now have become shorter. He doesn't talk to us I ask, like, how's your day? How you been? He's always looking down at the ground because he just doesn't want to make eye contact for the same reason that he's just so depressed.

MARIA CONTRERAS: (Speaking Spanish).

VARNEY: Jose's sister, Maria Contreras, visits her brother every Saturday. She urged him to see a psychologist at Adelanto. But the only thing they tell him, she says, is that he has to wait, or he has to fill out a paper. And he fills out the paper, but he doesn't get any help - no response or anything. Adelanto sits on a desolate stretch of road in the high desert. About 2,000 men and women are held here. Some arrived recently during the surge in border crossings. Others lived in the U.S., undocumented and undetected for years. In the visiting room, where detainees are brought in wearing blue, orange or red baggy pants and tops, a sign on the wall reads, don't give up hope.

The facility, run by GEO Group, has a troubled past. Federal and state inspectors have found detainees are treated like prisoners, even though they haven't been charged with a crime. And they don't receive adequate medical or mental health care. The alleged cases documented in the most recent report by Disability Rights California are grim - detainees slitting their wrists, discontinued medication for depression and ignoring requests for wheelchairs and walkers. In a statement, GEO Group says it strongly disputes the claims in the report and that the remedies recommended by Disability Rights California were already in place. We are deeply committed, the statement reads, to delivering high-quality, culturally responsive services in safe and humane environments. An ICE spokesperson said GEO Group's Adelanto facility is in full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Mario was inside Adelanto for six months in 2018. He says the report describes his own experiences there.

MARIO: What's happening is, like, all those claims that have been made against GEO and the staff in the medical department are finally being backed up by reports.

VARNEY: Mario asked us not to use his last name, since he's out on bond and still fighting deportation. He's 32 and crossed illegally with his parents when he was 5. In 2017, he was convicted of a misdemeanor. And ICE agents picked him up at his home in Ontario, Calif. At the time, he was seeing a therapist for depression and taking medication. It took three weeks to get his antidepressants back. And he says the sessions with the psychologists at Adelanto were brief and cursory.

MARIO: They keep their actual sessions to, like, a 5- to 10-minute maximum. And 10 minutes is, like, pushing it. And it's basically just like a quick check-in. They just ask you, like, how are you? Do you have any suicidal thoughts? Like, when is your next court date? So it's super minimal, almost nonexistent. It's one of those things that I feel that basically is just done to say, all right. We did it.

VARNEY: Mario is gay and lived in a room with three other men, including a gay man from Mexico who was seeking asylum. The men became close friends.

MARIO: He was persecuted in Mexico because of being gay. And so he already came with all this trauma. You know, and being detained for - at that point, like, four months and not really getting any mental health care really took a toll on him. And that's when he cut his wrist with a razor blade from the razors that we get to shave. And after that, he was placed in solitary confinement for about a week.

VARNEY: Mario says when his friend came back to their room, he was taking some sort of medication.

MARIO: After that, all he did was sleep. Like, whenever the food was ready, I'd go call him, like, hey, wake up. It's time to eat.

VARNEY: I heard this from other detainees and immigration lawyers - that the GEO psychiatrists prescribe antipsychotic medications that make people sleep much of the time. It's one of the reasons, Mario said, people were reluctant to seek help. But also, like other detainees, he was worried about being labeled as depressed.

MARIO: I couldn't express whenever I was extremely feeling sad or depressed or anxious because I was afraid that that would be used against me in court.

VARNEY: Judges cannot use mental health conditions to deny legal status, say immigration attorneys. On the day I visited Adelanto, long after GEO Group says it fixed any problems, there was a hunger strike. The detainees gave an attorney a handwritten note. And an advocacy group gave me a copy. Chief among their demands was speedier access to good medical care. I'm Sarah Varney in Adelanto, Calif.

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.