Immigrants Held In Solitary Confinement, Fed Spoiled Meat At OC Jail

Under the care of Orange County Sheriff’s Dept., immigrants were served rotten meat, forced to use unsanitary bathrooms, and held in solitary confinement.

As the Latino community's fears increase in light of President Donald Trump's new immigration orders, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) faces heightened scrutiny over its treatment of detainees.

A new report claims that immigrants detained in the Orange County-based Theo Lacy jail were incredibly mistreated. Under the watch of the Orange County Sheriff’s Dept., these detainees were forced to eat spoiled lunch meats, subjected to harsh solitary confinement, and forced to use unsanitary showers. They were also exposed to a series of other unsafe conditions, the OC Register reports.

Now, officials with the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General's office are pressing ICE to address the accusations.

“Because of concerns raised during [our] inspection, we recommend that ICE take immediate action,” officials wrote in a report.

The jail had 528 immigrant detainees up until Wednesday, but has the capacity to house another 3,000 inmates in different units. Federal officials made a surprise visit to the facility in November and found that ICE prisoners were living in unsafe conditions.

Among the many issues they raised were the staff's unsanitary food practices and filthy living conditions in the immigration units. Officials also found trash-strewn cells and moldy stalls in the facility's bathrooms.

Inspectors who talked to detainees learned that the meat in these facilities was so rotten that they had to often wash it before eating it.

Perhaps what's even more concerning is that officials learned that detainees who were accused of violating jail rules were held in solitary confinement for 24-hour periods. They were also given no access to recreation or visitors — a violation of ICE's rules.

Lt. Lane Lagaret, a Sheriff spokesman, said that inmates throughout the country are served the same food.

The federal report produced after the November visit said that the facility's unsanitary food practices are “[o]f deepest concern.” While inspecting refrigeration units, the report added, “we observed slimy, foul-smelling lunch meat that appeared to be spoiled.”

On Wednesday, immigration officials addressed some of the concerns brought up by federal authorities, saying that they had met with the Sheriff's department to ensure the facility is meeting the agency's standards. They added that food, bathroom, and phone issues spotted at Theo Lacy had been resolved — hard to believe they would be so quick to change things considering how these immigrants have been treated.

The federal inspection is now being hailed as a victory by immigrant rights advocates, the OC Register points out — but it came too late.

In 2015, a complaint was filed on behalf of 10 ICE detainees at Theo Lacy claiming that deputies physically abused them. Jail officials were then accused of also failing to provide immigrants with medical treatment. And in August 2016, detainees launched a hunger strike in the hopes their actions would bring attention to their plight. The visit from federal officials only occurred in November of 2016.

Despite the wait, Christina Fialho, the executive director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement, says that she and her organization “are glad to see that the Inspector General has taken our complaints seriously .” Fialho's group filed the 2015 complaint.

“The federal government needs to end its relationship with the O.C. Sheriff's Department and stop squandering taxpayer dollars on detaining immigrants in a system rife with human and civil rights abuses,” Fialho told reporters.

While we know many taxpayers who are concerned about how their tax dollars are used will continue to criticize agencies for this type of abuse, it's hard to see anything changing under Trump.

Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Robert Galbraith

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