Commentary

Karla Edwards: On a recent visit to a detention center

Many people believe that we should no longer be a Sanctuary City and they assume that the people ICE arrests are being deported. They are not being deported. They are being detained in “for profit” Detention Centers. This is what I learned during my visit:

During April, 2018, I visited the women’s section of the for-profit Adelanto Detention Center where 2,000 people are detained. (This is one of many detention centers in the United States). I was provided with instructions and a list of women who agreed to talk with visitors. The list included women from Mexico, Bulgaria, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Angola, Honduras, and Eritrea. Visitors are not permitted to take any belongings past the metal detector; lockers were provided. I sat in the waiting room for quite a long period of time, along with experienced visitors, although our visit was scheduled. (I was told that they had been kept waiting for as long as one and a half hours.)

Before going through the metal detector, all visitors were provided with a key to a locker for our belongings, including pens and paper (which was a disappointment for me since I had planned to take notes). After the metal detector, we went through a couple of locked doors to get from the waiting area to the visiting area. There were approximately 15 small, round tables, each with three chairs where the two volunteers and one prisoner could sit and talk.

A guard sat on a raised platform surrounded by a waist-high metal fence; there were steps leading up to her desk so the only way to enter her area was up the steps (although I don’t think anyone would consider heading up those few steps!) One member of the visiting group asked for paper and pencil since she wanted to provide her phone number and address to the woman she was talking with. She was provided with a piece of paper about 1 inch by two inches. At one point, the guard came down to the visiting area and moved one of the visitor chairs back to its original place (a few inches) so it was clear that she was watching all of us very closely.

Detainees, as ICE likes to call the prisoners, cannot receive phone calls, nor can they receive gifts that “are not determined to be of necessity for the sole purpose of travel on release from agency custody with approval of the ICE Deportation Officer.”

The experienced volunteer and I met with a woman from Mexico (who I will call Anita) and we talked for around 45 minutes. Anita is a high energy, very artistic, woman who has been detained for five years. My impression was that although she is a prisoner, she was making the best of each day. She weaves baskets using the wrappers from straws and makes cards using items salvaged from the trash, including wrappers from candy bars and any colorful pictures she can obtain, all of which she tears out, since scissors are not permitted. Anita helps others research ways in which to obtain legal help. In her case, she needs a legal brief to move her case forward. The brief has to be signed by a relative and her only relative is a sister (a citizen) who is suffering the effects of a stroke and does not have the capacity to complete the information. (My fellow volunteer plans to contact ICE to explain that she will complete the information needed, if this would be permitted.) The cost of obtaining legal representation can be as high as $3,500.00

I asked our experienced volunteer if she thought I could send colored markers to Anita and was informed that they “would not get through to her even if they came from Jeff Sessions himself.” So, we cannot send anything directly to prisoners except for money orders which are placed in their account. It is possible to send items directly from a mail-order company but there is no assurance that the intended recipient will receive the item. All incoming and outgoing mail is screened.

When we were leaving, I spoke with three women I had noticed talking with one inmate, wiping away their occasional tears. I asked who they had been visiting and was told that the detainee is their Mother. It was difficult to keep from wiping away tears of my own.

Karla Edwards is a Valencia resident.

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