Senator Lara Releases Letter Urging DHS to End For Profit Detention Centers

October 14, 2016

SACRAMENTO, CA - Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) sent the letter below urging the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to end its use of private immigration detention facilities. In August, Secretary Jeh Johnson announced that DHS would review their immigration detention practices. The full text of the letter can be found below:


October 14, 2016


The Honorable Jeh Johnson

Secretary of Homeland Security

U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Nebraska Avenue Complex

3801 Nebraska Avenue NW

Washington, DC 20528


Karen Tandy, Subcommittee Chair

Privatized Immigration Detention Facilities Subcommittee

Homeland Security Advisory Council

U.S. Department of Homeland Security


RE:  Support for Eliminating Privatized Immigration Detention Facilities


Dear Secretary Johnson and Subcommittee Chair Tandy:


On February 19, 2016, I introduced California State Senate Bill 1289, the “Dignity Not Detention Act,” which sought to prohibit local cities and counties from profiting by allowing private, for-profit companies to operate immigration detention facilities in their jurisdiction, thus phasing out the practice and would have required all detention facilities to uphold humane treatment standards. The Dignity Not Detention Act helped ignite a national conversation about the systemic abuse now synonymous with the for-profit immigration prison industry.  While very close to becoming state law, our Governor’s veto message made clear that California is for now, looking to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to take action.  Today, I write to implore you to shut down for-profit immigration detention centers once and for all.


I commend the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) plans to phase out the Bureau of Prisons’ use of private prisons as well as the DHS’s review considering the same policy.  It is crucial that DHS take the same action as the DOJ and phase out all private immigration detention. The very same companies running private prisons are operating private immigration detention facilities. The problems found in their prisons, also plague their detention facilities, claiming new victims each day.


We are proud to call California the most immigrant-rich state in the nation. Sadly, we also have one of the highest concentrations of for-profit immigration detention centers in the nation.  In 2015 alone, California housed an average of about 4,690 immigrants per day in detention centers across the state.  Of those immigrants detained each day, the vast majority, nearly 70 percent – or 3,294 immigrants – were housed in private facilities located in Bakersfield, Adelanto, Calexico and San Diego.


It is because of this deep impact on our state, as well as the problems that come with these facilities, that I introduced the Dignity Not Detention Act. It became increasingly clear to me as I researched this bill that profiteering off of an extremely vulnerable community is not only immoral, it systematizes inhumane treatment. To start, many facilities operate under a perverse incentive where they are guaranteed a minimum number of detainees at all times, entrenching their profit. For example, ICE guarantees GEO Group 975 detainees at all times with a per diem rate of $111 per bed per day at the Adelanto Detention Facility.  Perversely, if the number of beds increases over 975, the per diem rate drops to just $50 per day per bed.  Many private detention contracts thus include incentives to fill the most beds at all times, regardless of corresponding cost cutting measures or lower standards of care. This system of profiting off of immigrants’ misfortune, refugees included, is inhumane, unjust, and wrong.


As has become increasingly common knowledge, private immigration detention centers are plagued with problems so severe that the only resolution is shutting them down completely. In California, we have seen reports of abuse in private immigration detention centers spanning too many areas to count, including sexual abuse and deficient medical care.  These conditions are so dire that in California they have even resulted in death.  In 2012 Mr. Fernando Dominguez, an individual held at the GEO Group Inc. run Adelanto Detention Facility, died as the result of what the ICE Office of Professional Responsibility called “egregious errors” committed by the Center’s medical staff.  The Office of Detention Oversight ultimately concluded that Mr. Dominguez’s death could have been prevented had he received an acceptable level of care while at Adelanto. Incidents such as this have not gone unnoticed, prompting congressional attention, hunger strikes by immigrant detainees in California, nongovernmental organization reports, and finally through the Dignity Not Detention Act.


The Dignity Not Detention Act raised the profile of these systemic problems and our state is now watching.  This bill was a priority for the California Latino Legislative Caucus, passed strongly through the State Legislature, and received support from local governments, including the County of Alameda and the cities of Berkeley and San Francisco.  While the bill was ultimately vetoed, Governor Brown indicated that he was “troubled by recent reports detailing unsatisfactory conditions and limited access to counsel in private immigration facilities.” Our Governor pointed to the DHS’s plans to consider an end to private contracting and urged federal authorities to act swiftly.


Finally, a broken system cannot be maintained simply because it is entrenched.  I find it alarming that ICE Director Sarah Saldaña has made statements in the House Judiciary Committee suggesting that reform cannot occur because it would turn the system upside down.  Judging by extensive abuses in these facilities, this is indeed a system which needs to be turned upside down and thoroughly reformed.  As DHS, you have the opportunity to reform this entire system to make possible the closure of all private facilities, for example, by reducing the detained population and replacing private facilities with meaningful alternatives to detention.  It is crucial to explore these options and to implement substantive reforms.


California was a signature away from passing a law to close several private immigration detention centers and halted only because DHS announced its investigation of potential corrective action at the national level.  I now urge you to arrive at the same conclusion as the California State Legislature, and take meaningful action to shut down these for-profit immigration detention centers once and for all.







Senator, 33rd District