Officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and private prison operator GEO Group have privately admitted their culpability in an attack on nine asylum seekers who were brutally assaulted and attacked with pepper spray following their launch of a hunger strike at the notorious for-profit Adelanto Detention Center in San Bernardino County, California.
The rare climbdown, reported by the group of Central American migrants known as the #Adelanto9, comes amid reports of intermittent unrest at California's largest migrant incarceration compound, where three detainees have died since March due to the facility's miserable conditions.
The group claims that after presenting their written demands for improved treatment, including a lowering of onerous bonds, they were attacked by guards, who beat, pepper-sprayed and handcuffed them, before throwing them into hot showers that opened up pores to the spray, leading to an excruciating pain. Group members were then placed into high-security segregation cells.
In subsequent media releases, ICE officials sought to minimize the egregious nature of the assault, characterizing the detainees' claims as “a gross and regrettable exaggeration.”
Nonetheless, according to group spokesperson Marvin Grande, ICE and GEO officials met with the group and apologized for the matter.
“The official that talked with me accepted responsibility and, she said that (the guards) were at fault, and should not have acted the way they did,” Grande said in a statement released by solidarity group Sureñxs En Accion. “She said that if she had been there she would have acted differently, but the guard who was there had gone too far.” Another hunger striker added that in a meeting with ICE on Wednesday he was told that “the officer who had done this would be punished.”
However, the group is still being held in punitive isolation, despite having suspended the strike on Wednesday to enter negotiations with authorities.
“If GEO is acknowledging that their own guards were the ones who were at fault for attacking the hunger strikers engaged in peaceful protest, then why are they still holding the hunger strikers in the hole?” asked Tristan Call, a representative of Sureñxs En Accion. “The guards are the ones who need to be punished, and the detainees need to be treated for their injuries and released.”
The group is currently preparing to relaunch the collective action, which 33 women joined on Wednesday before finally accepting meals.
“Now we are aiming to continue because we see that ICE lied to us, because with the bond issue, we believed that (what ICE told us) was true, that only a judge can decide, but now we realize that’s not true, that these bonds are given by ICE,” said Isaac Lopez Castillo, another spokesperson of the group. “ICE can do something to lower the bonds … they can parole us without bond. We feel that they tricked us, and we are going to continue because we aren’t anyone’s toys.”
The #Adelanto9 are protesting the denial of their right to political asylum, humiliating and racist treatment by guards, the unavailability of in-language paperwork, and unclean food that they claim is only given to them once per day. The group is also outraged by filthy underwear given to incarcerated migrants that was clearly worn by other people; belongings of detainees being thrown away; a lack of clean water and better food; translated paperwork; religious services; and an immediate release of hunger strikers on their own recognizance due to unfair and exorbitant bond amounts.
The group of asylum seekers from Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras participated earlier this year in a caravan of refugees that traversed Mexico and gathered other refugees along migrant trails and railways, calling attention to the dire plight of Central American refugees and holding a mass convergence in Tijuana on May 9.