Despite Massive Protest, Deadlocked Adelanto Council Stands By GEO ICE Expansion

Adelanto Councilman Ed Camargo’s girlfriend’s employment by the GEO Group proved crucial last week in allowing that company to augment the Adelanto ICE Processing Center, a 1,940-bed illegal immigrant detention center it operates on behalf of the federal government within the 35,000 population, 56-quare mile city, with the 750-bed Desert View Modified Community Correctional Facility it previously ran proximate to the site. GEO’s proposal was to convert the smaller correctional facility, which until February held inmates for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, into an annex to hold the ever-greater number of illegal aliens the federal government wants to house in Adelanto.
GEO, in a move that its corporate officials said would preserve 150 existing jobs and provide the federal government with the capacity to meet a burgeoning immigration law offender population burden, said it wanted to convert the facility into an annex for or extension of the detention center. That expansion, the company said, would entail an economic boost for the community as a whole, as it would increase the annual salaries of entry-level detention center employees from $34,474 to $60,788.
Since the onset of the Donald Trump administration in 2017, federal immigration law, its enforcement and the detention of immigration law offenders have been issues of considerable controversy. GEO and its Adelanto operation have been caught up in that contretemps.
After federal officials carried out a series of surprise inspections, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General in 2018 issued a report which said that the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and GEO had engaged in “improper and overly restrictive segregation, and untimely and inadequate detainee medical care” at the Adelanto facility. Advocates for the inmate population have called upon the federal government to dispense with contractual detention facilities altogether and the shutdown of the Adelanto facility specifically. Litigation that has been launched since the advent of the COVID-19 crisis seeks to severely limit the population inside the Adelanto facility to head off the spread of the virus within the captive population. Last year, the California Legislature and Governor Gavin Newsom touched off an intensive legal battle over immigration policy when the legislature in October 2019 passed and Newsom signed Assembly Bill 32, which phased out private prisons and detention centers, effective on January 1, 2020. In a ploy to overcome that restriction, the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and GEO, in December before Assembly Bill 32 became law, entered into a 15-year contract to expand the Adelanto ICE Processing Center from 1,940 beds to 2,690 beds, essentially on the basis of folding the Desert View Modified Community Correctional Facility into the processing center.
GEO joined with the U.S. Department of Justice in suing the State of California, Newsom and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, contesting the legality and constitutionality of Assembly Bill 32, and asserting it improperly intrudes upon federal prerogatives and the legitimate function of the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Taking a second bite at the apple, California’s political establishment, including Newsom, Becerra and Democratic members of California’s congressional delegation, decried the manner in which federal officials were entering into deliberately-drafted last-minute contractual arrangements with California-based providers of private detentions services to “evade” the law. Thereafter, protests by groups militating and advocating on behalf of immigrants reached a crescendo.
Thus, the matter relating to the Adelanto ICE Processing Center put the Adelanto community at the forefront, the epicenter and ground zero of the bitter national debate over immigration policy.
On Februry 19, the Adelanto Planning Commission on a 4-to-1 vote, with Commissioner JayShawn Johnson dissenting, approved GEO making the expansion. Immigrant rights organizations, including the San Francisco-based Immigrant Legal Resource Center and the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice appealed that decision, placing the authority over the ultimate fate of the plan by the federal government to hold ever larger numbers of those detained for having come into the country illegally and attempting live undocumented among both the native, naturalized and legally documented populations into the hands of the city council. The removal of the decision into the province of the city council presented a dilemma. Councilman Ed Camargo for years has steered clear of any issues relating to GEO because his girlfriend/fiancee, Regina Duran, is employed by GEO. Mayor Gabriel Reyes, whose commitment to economic development and the creation and maintenance of financial activity within the city outruns his sensitivity to and willingness to comply with the wishes of those protesting against the private prison on the basis of social causes such as that relating to the federal government’s treatment of immigrants, placed him on GEO’s side of the issue. For him, that GEO is the city’s major employer and a provider of more than $960,000 in mitigation payments and administrative fees to City Hall is reason enough to be positively receptive to GEO’s expansion plans. By allowing the expansion to proceed, Reyes knows, the 450 workers employed at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center will soon be joined by the 150 GEO employees who stood to lose their jobs with the closure of the Desert View Modified Community Correctional Facility in February. He is backed in his support of GEO by Councilwoman Joy Jeannette.
Councilwoman Stevevonna Evans, who is active in Democratic political circles including the San Bernardino County Democratic Central Committee, and Councilman Gerardo Hernandez not only found the position taken by those advocating liberal immigration policies persuasive, but were among those making a case against the Department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Thus, the council found itself in a 2-to-2 deadlock on whether to grant the appeal of the planning commission’s February approval of the expansion.
After twice delaying a vote on the matter, the city council last week, at last considered the matter in a meeting that began on Wednesday, September 9 but which lasted into the wee hours of Thursday morning, September 10. The meeting was held by means of a teleconference, owing to the danger of the ongoing COVID-19 situation.
Some 91 members of the public weighed in on the matter through a queue of phone calls to the number 1-415-655-0001, with the lion’s share seeking to persuade the council to block GEO’s expansion plans. Some of those calling in were identified by name if they chose to give it and some were identified only by a numbered designation.
One caller, a man with the designation 626347, said, “The GEO people came on board under false pretenses with bribes, and I don’t know what else they did.” He said the pay rate for the jobs to be added was not what it was represented as being, and would range from $10.79 to $12.43 per hour. “It’s not going to take people out of poverty,” caller 626347 stated. “It’s just going to take them off welfare. This is oppression. What side of history is the council of Adelanto going to be on in 20 years? Right now you’re creating some kind of containment place to house people that are there for just wanting to look for a better life.”
Caller 626347 said there had been one suicide and three attempted suicides at the facility.
A woman caller designated as number 626482 said, “From listening to the GEO counsel, it sounds like there is a pay-to-play situation going on or a corrupt arrangement between GEO and the City of Adelanto. There are just too many questions that are not being answered. It is outrageous that the volunteer work program going on within Adelanto only pays detainees one dollar per day for the same work that a staff member would make somewhere between $12-and-$22- per hour. How can GEO justify such negligible wages to detainees when GEO’s total revenue in 2019 was $2.48 billion? What kind of city council would want to be in cahoots with a corrupt organization like GEO? The only reason that GEO wants to expand the detention center is they want to reap more profit off the backs of the detainees. Please overturn the decision to expand the detention center. It’s the only acceptable and humane decision you can make.”
A woman caller identified by the nomenclature 760792 said she was “an employee of GEO Group …for over five years. They are an awesome company to work for. They pay very well. I’m actually trying to purchase a house in Adelanto to further expand the economy and the community. But unfortunately, if this expansion does not go through, not only myself but many hundreds of employees that work for GEO will be out of jobs, will not be able to support the economy, will probably have to move out of the city. Talking about the treatment of the detainees: I work in the visitation department. Actually, they are treated very well. I have had family members thank me that we’re not cruel and inhumane towards them. Most of us are minorities that work with them. So, it’s their own people who are here. I’m a minority myself. We are watching over our own, and making sure that nothing horrible is happening to these guys, because we do care, because everyone is human at the end of the day.”
When the council got around to voting on the matter sometime shortly after 3 a.m. Thursday morning, they were unable to come to a consensus. They approached the vote from different angles. Mayor Gabriel Reyes and Councilwoman Joy Jeannette put forth a motion to deny the appeal and allow the expansion. That approach failed, with Hernandez and Evans evening the score with two votes against it. Camargo did not participate in the matter, having recused himself from taking part in the decision.
Equally futilely, Councilwoman Stevevonna Evans and Councilman Gerardo Hernandez floated a motion to uphold the appeal and deny GEO’s expansion plan. That failed 2-to-2.
Based upon the planning commission’s approval of the expansion proposal involving the conversion of the Desert View Modified Community Correctional Facility into an augmenting wing to the Adelanto Ice Processing Center, City Attorney Lloyd Pilchen said the planning commission’s February vote remains intact, such that GEO is now eligible to proceed with the expansion.
The legal team representing the appellants, in particular Grisel Ruiz with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, is propounding the novel theory that the tie vote by the council on the appeal nullifies the planning commission’s original vote, which runs contrary to custom, law, tradition and precedent, which holds that unless an appealed decision is clearly overturned, it remains in place. Ruiz has suggested that because a majority of the council failed to either deny the appeal or approve the expansion, adequate authority for the city – by means of a council decision – to give passage to GEO’s request for expansion has not manifested. Indications were that a legal challenge of the project will now ensue.
During the course of the meeting, Councilwoman Evans referenced what she suggested was collusion or a “pay-to-play” circumstance that had arisen when the GEO offered last year to continue its bed tax payments to the city as well as an additional annual payment of $50,000 for “facilitating the intergovernmental services agreement” that exists between the city and the federal government relating to the prison even while the Desert View Modified Community Correctional Facility remained shuttered.
Meanwhile, the federal government and GEO, which have been limiting the number of inmates being located into the facility to the point that it is now functioning at well under 50 percent capacity, are on the brink of loading the prison full of prisoners in light of their inability to get clearance to add 1,400 beds to GEO’s immigrant holding facility in the community of McFarland in Central California earlier this year.
-Mark Gutglueck

Leave a Reply