A coalition of civil rights groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday against President Donald Trump and Immigration and Customs Enforcement alleging inhumane conditions at a federal prison in Victorville where authorities are housing at least 1,000 immigrant detainees.
“These individuals are not being detained because they stand accused of a crime, much less convicted of one,” says the 39-page complaint from the American Civil Liberties Union, Prison Law Office and Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center filed in U.S. District Court in Riverside.
“Yet conditions under which these civil detainees are being imprisoned are no better than, and in some instances worse than, the conditions to which the population of convicted prisoners at Victorville is subjected.”
The lawsuit asks the court to order the government to immediately remove the detainees from the Federal Correctional Institution, Victorville.
“The purpose of our lawsuit is to put an immediate halt to inhumane and degrading conditions to which these detainees at Victorville are being subjected,” said Margot Mendelson, staff attorney at the Prison Law Office, a Berkeley-based prison rights legal center. “There is absolutely no justification for holding civil detainees in these punitive and harmful conditions”.
ICE declined to comment on the lawsuit.
“However, lack of comment should not be construed as agreement or stipulation with any of the allegations,” ICE spokeswoman Lori K. Haley said. “Our trained law enforcement professionals adhere to the departments mission, upholding our laws while continuing to provide our nation with safety and security.”
In early June, ICE moved to federal penitentiaries in Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona and Texas about 1,600 people believed to be living in the U.S. illegally. Among the detainees are asylum seekers attempting to enter the country legally.
About 1,000 detainees have been taken to the federal correctional facility in Victorville in the High Desert of San Bernardino County. A large number of them are not from Mexico but from counties such as India and Afghanistan, creating cultural and language difficulties for the prison staff.
Detainees arriving at the prison are given a handbook available only in English and Spanish, the lawsuit states, and “correctional officers bark orders in English, occasionally in Spanish, even though the men speak only French, Punjabi, Mam or other languages.”
The Bureau of Prisons reopened housing units it had previously closed to hold the detainees, but failed to hire additional employees to address chronic understaffing at the prison, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit also alleges detainees receive minimal or no medical, dental or mental health screenings when they arrive at Victorville. “The lack of screening is especially dangerous in light of the confirmed outbreak of chickenpox and scabies among the detained population,” the suit alleges.
Detainees who attempt to seek medical help are often punished by being locked in their cells, the complaint alleges. “As a result, other detainees have been dissuaded from requesting medical care for their own needs, having witnessed the isolation and punishment of those who have spoken up,” the suit states.
Nutrition also is a problem and detainees receive meals that are inadequate with poor nutritional value and lacking protein, the plaintiffs allege. “Detainees who are vegetarians for religious reasons … are often offered nothing but two pieces of bread for lunch and green beans and rice for dinner,” according to the complaint.
In addition, the lawsuit argues detainees are unable to exercise their religious beliefs and have no opportunity to engage with other worshipers in group prayer. “Defendants have stripped from the imprisoned men one of the few things that might bring them some sense of comfort or peace of mind — the ability to freely practice their faith.”