Visiting Despair at Adelanto

by Rosemary Jenkins     LA Progressive     March 1, 2018


Unlike my experience about which I wrote last year, my visit to Adelanto Detention Center this time was very “pleasant” (if that can be considered an appropriate description).

Several of us drove together by car (not the chartered buses to the men’s facility which shares the same campus when we were unceremoniously and heartlessly blocked from entering last year) and, despite encountering cold weather and a little snow, we were welcomed to the women’s section by friendly staff.

Having earlier been provided a list of names, country of origin, and ID numbers for the detainees, we registered at the front desk, requesting a visit with one of the women on our list. To our surprise, many of the listed inmates had been released–hopefully finding asylum in this country rather than deportations to the menacing nations from which they had escaped in the first place.

We then sat in the waiting room until our client’s name was called. While there, we had the opportunity to interact with others and observe. There were families with children, spouses or friends, community leaders, and attorneys. So many have children from whom they have been separated for years (and still cannot see them).

So why do they find themselves in such a position, you may ask? Idealistically, many came here for a better life for themselves and, thus, for their children; yet these women now find themselves incarcerated often without access to the children they were making every conceivable effort to help. Many came from countries where boys are taken from homes to be impressed into armies of rebellion; where girls are stolen from homes to be raped and often left pregnant with no means of support; where husbands are taken and tortured to death; where wives become indentured servants and raped and tortured as well; where grandparents and infants are left to fend for themselves. These women came with a sense of hope and naïveté. America, the nation of immigrants (a phrase whose use is now forbidden by the Trump administration at the highest levels) is supposed to welcome such immigrants who come here for a better life and with the goal of being contributors to our diverse society but that is not what these immigrants are finding to be the case.

Finally as we were called up, we traded our drivers’ licenses for a visitor’s badge and a key to a locker where everything had to be stored. That included paperwork and notepads, photos that could not be shared of family and friends who could not make the often arduous trip, or money we would have liked to pass on for detainees’ use in the “commissary.”

When called again, we went through a metal detector and were also wanned. Our pockets were turned inside out to prevent any contraband from getting through.

At length, we were led to a medium-sized room where several detainees were eagerly awaiting their visitors. Some rarely get visitors so they are grateful and appreciative and even touched by anyone who takes the time to come by. Some get more frequent visitors while others get none.

Adelanto (as is the case with other similar facilities–private, for-profit institutions) is in the middle of nowhere (icy-cold in the winter, murderously hot in the summer). Its location, therefore, makes it difficult, costly, and time-consuming for people to make the trip. Many are in no position to do make that journey.

When visitors look at the faces of the detainees, they recognize immediately a certain sadness. Many are depressed (even suicidal) and are on medications.

When visitors look at the faces of the detainees, they recognize immediately a certain sadness. Many are depressed (even suicidal) and are on medications. These women (and men in their separate section–many of whom have been beaten mercilessly, so much so that some have committed suicide while others have gone on a hunger strike for better conditions)–these women are not animals (PETA would never allow such treatment) and yet we treat them as sub-humans. Some have been in legal limbo for months or even years. Such a process is long, drawn-out, tedious, overwhelming, and too often unsuccessful.

The woman whom I visited had been repeatedly abused in the past–psychologically and physically–by her then boyfriend and when she tried to defend herself, he called the police and she went to prison on trumped-up charges (nothing happened to him–a real #MeToo abomination). Her country of origin is a murderous one–hence her coming to this country in the first place. If she is not granted asylum here, she will be deported and almost certainly sent to her death. She is such a sweet, gentle soul. Surely, she deserves better than the life she has experienced so far. She is waiting for her asylum hearing later this week after almost a year of waiting. Many of us are seeking justice and mercy for her; let’s hope she gets it.

During our visit of an hour, we could look around the room and notice uniforms in different colors: Blue is for detainees whose only “fault” was coming here as an undocumented individual. Orange is for those who have already successfully served their prison time and are now waiting to learn of the outcome of their plea to remain in America. Finally, there are a few red uniforms which indicate a higher risk for certain specific individuals and, yet, when engaging them, they display a warmth not unlike that of any family member or friend and so it is left to wonder why they are wearing red.

Ultimately, it was time to leave behind this facility and the wonderful women we met. It was depressing for all of us. We held out hope for their futures and yet reality may dictate that what lay before them might be a burden too heavy. Many of us will visit again or write to them or send them money to help out. Many of us will continue to work with organizations and attorneys who are working, often pro bono, to represent them and help them obtain the justice they deserve.

All of us must keep ourselves up to date on what transpires at these facilities, the conditions under which detainees live, and more about the stories of their lives. It is incumbent upon is to do what we can to seek justice for each of them and to support such efforts. Remember, there but for the grace of God could go any one of us (or our predecessors or even our progeny).

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