LETTER TO ICE
Sent to ICE Officials Monday 8/12/2013
Made Public 8/23/2013
To Whom It May Concern,
Attached is a copy of the following letter. Friends of Adelanto Detainees came about through a conscientious effort to end the isolation of immigrants in detention at the Adelanto facility. Our visitation program represents a connection to the outside world for the men at the facility, and has over 70 trained visitor volunteers comprised of faith leaders, community members, and individuals from all over the Southern California region. We go in and visit, develop relationships, and help to provide some hope through a really rough time in people’s lives. Before our suspension, we were able to conduct 20 visits to detainees at the Adelanto facility. We received a very warm welcome from the men in detention, and we know that our visits had a positive impact on their lives. We are writing to you today out of concern for the recent suspension of our community’s visitation program and to share our intentions moving forward.
We are shocked by the suspension of our program, and believe that the suspension, barring community visitation, is in violation of ICE’s national detention standards. In the time we had been visiting there were no reports of any incidents and never any issues raised with the program. All we received was this email from AFOD Wesley Lee on July 24, 2013: “Ms. Mena, the Friends of Adelanto Program has been suspended until further notice. Please let your participants know as they will not be able to access Adelanto detainees.”
We have been trying to get answers as to why our group was suspended and what we could do to get reinstated. We have emailed ICE locally, tried to visit the center, participated on a call with ICE’s national leadership, and co-signed a letter to ICE. So far, these are the results that the Friends of Adelanto Detainees have taken away:
- ICE is unwilling to take our questions. In response to an email questioning the suspension, addressed to Adelanto’s AFOD Lee, ICE Los Angeles Field Office AFOD Robert Naranjo responded with the following email on July 24th : “Please refer all questions to Christina [Fialho, with CIVIC] so that she can appropriately get them vetted.”
- We are “Blacklisted” from the facility. Two members of Friends tried to visit friends at the center on July 26, 2013. Earlier that morning Sergeant Travis Fridenstine emailed eight new sign-up sheets that we considered the “further notice” that AFOD Lee had been referring to. It was not. GEO staff reported that members were banned them from the facility, and did not even allow a visit with a detainee with a personal relationship outside the Friends program. GEO Sergeant Santiago stated that the ban is an ICE directive. A request was made for a copy of the memo that listed the members names. The request was denied and the members were told to leave and threatened with calls to law enforcement.
- There has not been a single justification. On July 31, 2013, Friends of Adelanto Detainees’ coordinator Victoria Mena was on a conference call with Friends of Orange County Detainees’ coordinator Jan Meslin (who also sustained suspension of her two programs), CIVIC directors Christina Mansfield and Christina Fialho and ICE’s Andrew Lorenzen-Strait. During the course of the call, Mr. Lorenzen-Strait was unable to provide a single incident, or any issue that took place at Adelanto which involved the Friends program. Aside from the fact that there were no justifiable reason given for the suspension of the program, Mr. Lorenzen-Strait made it very clear that he had no intention of working with the community about the matter when he stated openly that he had wished the phone call had only been between himself and CIVIC leaders.
- ICE has failed to address the actual groups affected. On August 6, 2013, Friends of Adelanto Detainees was a co-signer on a letter along with Friends of Orange County Detainees and CIVIC. While we were CC’d on the response from Mr. Lorenzen-Strait on August 8, 2013, it was addressed solely to Ms. Fialho of CIVIC. This is just one small example. The bigger problem is that not once has ICE reached out to the Friends of Adelanto Detainees program to talk about our program’s suspension, even though we are the ones affected by the suspension. In fact, Mr. Naranjo’s email deflecting our questions was the only email that we have received.
Our members and larger community are outraged and saddened by the suspension of the program. The fact that ICE has the power to “Blacklist” people in this manner, denying visits and friendship to detainees who are in need of a connection to the outside world, is reprehensible. In the short time that we were visiting, we have heard many stories about how hard it is to live at that facility–what the conditions are like on the inside. With the recent publicity around the suspension, we have received even more reports of violations from various credible sources.
When looking at visitation models, we had initially decided to build a relationship with ICE, and work to create this formal program at Adelanto because we thought that involving all stakeholders in our efforts would help us all to better understand one another. All it has served to do is further divide the community and lead to further isolation of the men detained at the center. Therefore, we respectfully withdraw our request to be reinstated. We do not need, nor want ICE to post our sign-up sheets any longer.
In light of the withdrawal for reinstatement, we now request that ICE immediately remove our members from the “Blacklist” at the Adelanto facility, with no continued retaliation for developing friendships.
Thank you for your time. Please note, while we have taken the liberty to CC some of our stakeholders, as they have a vested interest in our group’s future and have asked to be kept aware of the situation, we have not yet publicized this letter, and are looking forward to your prompt response.
Friends of Adelanto Detainees