California officials: Immigration facilities lack oversight

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Detainees confined to federal immigration detention facilities located in California have inadequate access to health care, lawyers and family, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Tuesday.

Becerra was discussing the findings of a 147-page report prepared by his office that also found that detainees face long periods of confinement without breaks and language barriers in the 10 detention facilities state authorities inspected in 2017.

Becerra said the annual report released Tuesday is the first of 10 that the state Legislature requires of the California Department of Justice, which is tasked with inspecting all federal immigration detention facilities in the state. That law was one of three immigration-related “sanctuary state” bills passed in 2017 that the Trump administration unsuccessfully challenged in court.

Inspectors spent one day on scheduled visits at 10 facilities in operation in 2017. ICE contracted with four for-profit prison companies and six county sheriffs to house and care for the inmates.

Since then and amid growing protests, sheriffs in Sacramento and Contra Costa counties terminated their contracts with ICE to house federal immigration inmates in the local jails. A third facility near Bakersfield is also facing closure after the city of McFarland told ICE it would not renew its contract when it expires in March.

Becerra said many of the problems are caused by inadequate federal oversight. He said a common “challenge” inspectors found at most facilities included confining inmates to their cells for up to 22 hours a day. He noted that most of the detainees are not accused of crimes and are awaiting court decisions on their immigration status.

ICE spokeswoman Lori Haley said the private prison companies and county jails that house detainees “must meet rigorous performance standards.”

“The safety, rights and health of detainees in ICE’s care are of paramount concern and all ICE detention facilities are subject to stringent, regular inspections,” Haley said.

The attorney general’s report estimated that 74,000 immigrant detainees have been held in California detention centers over a three-year period ending in 2017 with an average stay of 50 days per inmate. Becerra said the state inspections of federal immigration facilities in California were necessary “because everyone in this country has constitutional rights and everyone at the end of the day — child and adult — deserve to be treated in a human way.”

In a separate report , California’s state auditor Elaine Howle said cities and counties failed to properly monitor the facilities in their locales. Howle’s report also called on ICE to be more transparent in its detention operations.

“The state lacks complete information about how much it costs and what conditions the detainees face,” Howle’s report concluded. “Also unclear are how many detainees are being held throughout California, where they are being held, and for how long.”