Blog Post: Dia De Los Muertos – Let Us Not Forget Those Who Died In ICE Detention

Over the first two days of November, many in the Latino community celebrate Dia de Los Muertos – Day of the Dead.  Families and friends of those who died over the last year gather to remember their beloved. Beautiful altars with pictures of those who have died are erected and gifts that bring back memories of the loved one are brought to these altars.

This year I am joining the diverse community of persons from across California and the country who are gathering for the Day of the Dead in memory of those who have died in immigration detention centers.  Over the last year, 24 men and women have died in US detention centers, adding to the numbers of previous years.  These were unnecessary deaths, but they will continue if these detention centers are not shut down.

Today, the world’s largest immigration detention system is found in the United States.  There are over 200 detention centers in the country and 5 of those are in California – Adelanto, Mesa Verde, Yuba, Otay Mesa, and Imperial detention centers.  The Adelanto and the Mesa Verde detention centers are on the Detention Watch Network’s list of the 10 worst detention centers in the country.

The Adelanto detention center was opened in 2011 through a contract between the City of Adelanto, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Geo Group, a for-profit prison corporation. Its early detainees totaled 975.  Today this detention center can hold 2,690 persons making it the largest detention center in the country.

The Mesa Verde Detention Facility was opened in 2015 when the City of McFarland contracted with ICE and the Geo Group with room for 400 detainees.  After annexing the Golden State Modified and the Central Valley Community Correctional Facilities, the Mesa Verde Detention Facility’s capacity grew to 1,400.

Why are these two California immigration detention centers considered among the worst in the country?  Inhumane conditions and the violation of human rights. It is why people are dying in detention centers. Death has come to immigrant detainees in these centers but a family member of one who has died says, “He died a physical death, but death came to him when he was detained. He and our entire family died a psychological, emotional, and spiritual death because of his detention.”

The families of detained immigrants also suffer because of the detention of their loved ones.  They are robbed of the opportunity to be family.  Immigrant detainees belong at home with their families living productive lives, contributing not only to the welfare of their families but also to the welfare of the communities where they live.

A civil society should not detain and imprison those who are waiting for their immigration legal process to be conducted, much less treat them inhumanely and violate their human rights.  A country that claims to be a beacon of justice should not allow a profit to be made from the suffering of immigrants seeking to survive the cruel impact of poverty, violence, natural disasters, and persecution.  There is a better way.

Shutting down immigration detention centers and allowing detainees to return to their families while they wait for their immigration legal process to be completed might be an alternative leading to more humane immigration.  Might we need to ask ourselves the question of whether the US needs to be contracting with for-profit prisons?  Do these contracts help or contribute to a harmful and uncaring immigration system?  Could we instead use a portion of the $25 billion combined yearly budgets of ICE and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for addressing the human needs of immigrant communities, enabling them to integrate into US society?  Immigrants have already proven their worth to this country.

With their families, let us mourn the death of the men and women who have died over the years in immigration detention centers joining all who seek a better way – life instead of death.

Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño

Board Chair

The California Endowment


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