ICE and its history of circumventing state laws

By Hilda Cruz, Regional Organizer, Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity

When law enforcement breaks the law, who holds them accountable? What about the largest law enforcement agency in the nation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)?. Immigrants and advocates constantly wonder why an agency was created that can function with basic impunity and can conspire with private entities such as the GEO group to find loopholes in policy and circumvent laws in the name of profit, on the backs of immigrant lives. 

Like many others, I was shocked to learn about the for-profit detention centers that were being built all over the country, including the one in the city of Adelanto. Detaining immigrants is the profit-driven government practice of incarcerating human beings while they wait for a decision on their immigration status or future deportation. As a first-generation immigrant and faith organizer, I have to add that this practice of imprisoning immigrants is rooted in the oppressive practice to criminalize people of color. What is shocking is that most people do not know that in the United States, taxpayers spend $149.58 on average to detain a person in a private immigrant prison per day. And with 1,940 persons detained in the city of Adelanto, the GEO facility which manages this site, has definitely been making a good profit.

GEO is a prison interest corporation and is always looking to expand jails, prisons, and detention industries in rural places that are far removed from the public eye and interest. Rural cities that are experiencing financial hardships are the perfect place for these places. The city of Adelanto, located in the high desert area in Southern California, offered just that. In 2010 the GEO Group bought the facility from the City of Adelanto for $28 million. 

Yes, that means that my and your hard-earned tax contribution are being used to demonize, criminalize, separate families, cage, and traumatize people with the justification that a law was broken. The organization I worked for back in 2010 was a partner of the newly formed Inland Coalition for Immigrants Justice and through the collective work, we began hearing stories of people being picked up in ICE raids, road checkpoints, and even school bus pickup locations.   Hearing these stories broke my heart.  Learning that there was a federal mandate to fill this detention center, angered me.  Back then this was information known to immigrant rights activists, organizers, and lawyers.  But when we shared these facts people refused to believe that this was happening in the U.S.  It took many prayer vigils and actions so that the general public would learn about this immigrant detention center in the city of Adelanto along with all of their human rights abuses. 

We have come a long way in sharing these stories and humanizing persons in detention while advocating for their release.  For years, local and state organizations have worked to highlight and try to stop these human rights abuses. State legislation, such as SB29 (the Dignity Not Detention Act) was passed to ensure that our local government is not complicit in private immigration detention expansion in the state of California. AB 32  barred the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) from entering into or renewing a contract with a private prison company after January 1, 2020.  This has been a collective work of many years only to see these laws being circumvented by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the GEO Corporation, and city council members in the City of Adelanto. This article speaks about how the community was ignored as GEO and some city council members pushed for another expansion last year. Circumvention of state laws that will stop when the United States finally abolishes this oppressive practice that criminalizes and harms people for profit. 

For now, we, Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice, Detention Watch Network, and Dignity not Detention Coalition will continue to work with people in detention and helping their families share stories of this harmful practice to make it public through prayer vigils, actions, and events. The next event is ICE on Trial via Zoom on Sunday, March 28, 2021.  This is a public event where we will hear stories from those impacted by detention. Judges, chosen by the people, will be present and will hear these stories along with grievances, and after a listening session, they will give a verdict.  While this may not be a real trial, it is a way to share the many injustices and human rights violations people undergo while in detention centers.  It is also a good way to remind us that these injustices are committed with our tax contributions.   

For more information or to register please contact:

Lizbeth Abeln –



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