A letter to California's Attorney General from Dominguez - who has been detained for 22 months - details flagrant legal and human rights violations within our country's immigration detention centers.
Editor's note: the attachments referred to below have been excluded for brevity's sake; the full letter and attachments can be found here. Those wishing to send letters of support to Ramon can find his contact information at the end of this letter.
Attorney General Becerra,
I wish to begin this correspondence by conveying my appreciation for your time and for your consideration in receiving this letter as you permit us the opportunity to reach out to you as we do so in efforts to express our concerns regarding ICE detention. I write with hopes of enlightening you with a perspective that you or the public in general are not otherwise exposed to as it is evident that the truth is meant to be obfuscated to illustrate a different picture and to depict a more colorful scenario than the stark reality that those of us in ICE detention are rather subject to at the hands of ICE and of our private corporation custodians whom have obligated us, as a last resort, to initiate this instant petition with expectations that the enclosed concerns will be meaningfully reviewed and that substantive change will be enacted to extend justice to those of us in civil detention placed in immigration proceedings.
I am in ICE custody at the Imperial Regional Detention Facility at Calexico, California. The Imperial facility is operated by private contractors Management & Training Corporation ("MTC"). I have been incarcerated at this facility immediately following the completion of my sentence at my former place of incarceration at the California State prison on January 18, 2019. I've been fortunate to learn of your concern regarding the welfare and conditions of ICE detention. Having been apprised of your interest in such regards, I take this opportunity to demonstrate the reality of detention of which undermines, or rather outrightly belies our guarantee of due process and of which is inherently punitive and not conducive to meaningfully and purposefully facilitate those placed in such civil proceedings that are in most cases, subject to mandatory detention without the ability to ever be released out on bond for the duration of such civil proceedings and detention.
Violations of Due Process
Take for example the fact that those of us placed in removal proceedings are not provided with legal assistance or counsel. Although we do have a right to retain legal counsel, we must do so at our own expense in which case we are left to self litigate and to represent ourselves before immigration court and left to represent ourselves in even more so complicated legal proceedings such as the Board of Immigration Appeals ("BIA") and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ("the Ninth Circuit") entities of which we must go before in continuation of the appeals process.
The system places detainees in removal proceedings in which they are left to act as their own lawyers without regard as to the individual's level of education or knowledge and much less to their familiarization with the legal system. Accordingly, it is impossible for such proceedings to be fair. The Performance-Based National Detention Standards ("PBNDS") Attachment "A": PBNDS Section 6.3 Law Libraries and Le al Material does, however, mandate that detainees have access to meaningful legal services and mandates that detainees be provided access to a specified number of legal paper publications which, however, this facility has deprived us of, and of which it has outrightly denied to us as we have made endless efforts to obtain such mandated legal material.
In Attachment "B" to this correspondence I wish to demonstrate to you some evidence consisting of a facility grievance we have initiated, and exhausted, and by which we have sought to exercise our rights of being afforded an opportunity to have access to the mandated legal materials as set forth in the above noted PBNDS standard relating to the enumerated list of legal materials and books that a detention facility is mandated to make accessible to detainees. The facility, however, has demonstrated an outright disregard and has refused to adhere to policy and to accommodate detainees with even the legal materials of which detainees are entitled to in accordance with the above noted PBNDS standard and of which would be a detainees' only vehicle and hope to effectively, and fairly, litigate as an unrepresented litigant.
In addition to being deprived of the essential legal material that should be made available to detainees in accordance to the PBNDS, MTC/IRDF, and ICE, have willfully refused to allow us to utilize even the devastatingly limited amount of miscellaneous, donated, legal materials that the law library does have and has been using the COVID- 19 as an excuse to deprive us of such limited legal material. Such actions are unreasonable as the facility has made accommodations to bring regular reading books from the law library to the housing units but the facility has nonetheless refused to make that same accommodation in regards to permitting detainees to utilize the very limited amount of miscellaneous, donated, legal books that the law library does have. In attestation to such circumstances, I wish to share with you the following attachments which consist of copies of requests that we have been making to the facility in efforts to check out the limited legal materials that the facility does have and of which the facility is unreasonably denying to us although the facility has made accommodations to transport regular reading books from the library to all of the housing units during this restricted program due to the COVID-19. Please see Attachment "C"; Attachment "D" ; and Attachment "E."
In sum, all individuals placed in immigration civil proceedings are not entitled to public legal counsel and are therefore compelled to act as their own legal representatives before very complicated legal proceedings and although the PBNDS does mandate that detainees be provided access to a specified amount of legal materials, as evidenced by Attachment B to this correspondence, this facility has refused to acknowledge and comport to such legal standards and has ignored our grievances and requests seeking to exercise such right. Furthermore, as we have sought to utilize the very limited amount of donated legal materials and books that the law library does have at this facility, we are told that we cannot check those books out because of the law library restrictions due to the COVID-19. But as noted above, such actions are arbitrary as the facility has made accommodations in regards to permitting regular books from the law library to be accessible to all of the detainees in their housing unit despite the library restrictions.
It is true that the facility has accommodated each housing unit with a computer which contains the Lexis-Nexis program, however, to most detainees, such program is hard to understand as most detainees have absolutely no knowledge of the law and a lot of detainees do not even speak, understand, nor read the English language. Compelling an individual to act as its own legal representative through very complicated legal proceedings undermines the United States Constitution's guarantee of due process especially in light of the above noted factors. Even more so, it is an outright violation of due process to not provide unrepresented civil detainees access to the mandated legal materials as provided by the Performance-Based National Detention Standards and to further obstruct their access to any comprehensive legal material during this pandemic. In the final analysis, most detainees here give up on their cases and eventually accept their deportation-a penalty that the Supreme Court of the United States has described as" a particularly severe 'penalty"' See Padilla v. Kentucky, 559 U.S. 356, 374, 130 S. Ct. 1473, 176 L. Ed. 2d 284 (2010).
In addition, I wish to demonstrate to you how the law permits IRDF/MTC and even ICE employees to blatantly violate detainee's constitutional rights as they are shielded from liability. Please see Attachment "F" and Attachment "G" to this correspondence and which consists of an attempted federal Bivens action that I submitted on behalf of the undersigned detainee for the purpose of seeking redress and to address the unlawful conduct of IRDF/MTC and of ICE employees including due process violations, cruel and unusual treatment, and retaliation claims which was, however, denied by the federal court basing its initial decision on the basis that federal law bars Plaintiffs from seeking damages from "privately" employed personnel and further dismissing the entire action based on the fact that the Plaintiff had "alternative" remedies by which to seek redress and referring to such "alternatives" as Plaintiffs facility "grievance system." The Court failed to hear Plaintiffs arguments and failed to realized that some of the claims brought forth by the Plaintiff included claims of violations of due process as ICE refused to review, investigate and adjudicate grievances relating to retaliation by the staff at IRDF/MTC.
Cruel and Unusual Punishment
Overly Restrictive Conditions
The punitive nature of ICE detention is further evinced in the harshness of the physical confinement of which we are subject to inside these detention facilities where some of us are to remain and languish for months and even years while awaiting the conclusion of the proceedings. The PBNDS mandates that detainees be afforded at least four hours a day to outdoor recreation time which the PBNDS defines as recreation "outside the confines of the housing structure and/or solid enclosures." Please see Attachment "H." PBNDS Section 5.4 Recreation. However, this facility has never observed such standard, leaving us detainees at times to go days without being afforded the opportunity to attend any outside recreation time.
The resulting mental and physical stagnation due to this prolonged restricted confinement is detrimental especially for those of us detainees that are released from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR") where rather of maintaining and continuing in the path of rehabilitation and of transitioning, these detention facilities produce a reverse effect on the well-being of detainees due to the lack of program opportunities, rehabilitative self-help classes, education, outside of the housing unit volunteer work opportunities and due to the overall oppression endured inside these detention facilities and as noted above, for certain individuals this can last years. Take for example detainees that are released from prison fire camp program and those of us that that were released from prison with vocational completions and career readiness courses only to then be placed in this ICE custody and due to the nature of such detention undue, dull, and revert all of the positive and rehabilitative acquired qualities.
Unsanitary Conditions and Denial of Reasonable Safety
As early as March of this year and at the outset of the current global health crisis, I, along with other concerned detainees began requesting that this ICE facility heed the seriousness of the crisis and began requesting that we be issued face masks and sufficient hand soap as we are only provided a single 4-ounce bottle of shampoo on a weekly basis and as our only source of provided hygiene. Please see Attachment "I". Despite having raised such concerns and in the midst of this ongoing crisis, facility staff have not heard our cry and continues to neglect to issue even the devastatingly insufficient amount that it usually provides detainees with even in spite of the fact that facility staff have even acknowledged that it is an unrealistic expectation to anticipate detainees to make such small quantities of shampoo last for an entire week to constantly wash hands and shower. Please see Attachments "J" and "K." It is true that some detainee's are fortunate to have the financial means to purchase additional hygiene supplies at the commissary, however, not every one is. As of the writing of this document these conditions exist. Please see Attachment "L" and Attachment "M."
Moreover, in light of the fact that numerous staff at Imperial facility have fallen ill due to being infected with the COVID-19 virus and despite the fact that the virus has reached and infected detainee's inside Imperial, facility staff continue to place us us at unreasonable heighten risk of contracting the virus demonstrating an outright disregard to their own purported policy and a callous indifference for our safety, health's, lives, and that of their own staff as well. Please see Attachments "L" and "M". Per such documentation it has become evident that our constant cry to be protected is being totally ignored. Such documentation also attests to our cruel and unusual treatment cry as it details circumstances in which multitude of detainees are constantly "forced" to bunch up together without personal protective equipment in small confined areas where we it is impossible to practice six-feet social distancing while facility staff conduct housing unit cell searches. In addressing such recurring circumstances and concerns, we have been told that it is our responsibility to protect ourselves, however, that is impossible when those organized unit cell searches occur unexpectedly and of which are intended to catch us unawares providing no time to reach for anything nor to conduct any other activity than to obey the commands given by facility staff to exit our cells and head to the housing unit's mini-rec yard while staff conduct cell searches of the entire housing unit. In short, without given an opportunity to reach for our masks, wash our hands or anything, we are forced inside small confined spaces for longer than an hour while facility staff search the housing unit. I have raised these concerns on constant occasions, however, they too have gone ignored. Please see Attachment "N" and Attachment "0."
As Attachment "P" to this correspondence I wish to share with you an "Amicus" authored by several immigration rights advocates and organizations which details and expresses identical concerns as those expressed above.
In closing, we appreciate your thoughtfulness in giving our concerns attention and consideration. We anticipate any response from you in the near future. We submit, in the interest of justice.
Date: September 17, 2020
Ramon Dominguez A# 043-439-804
Imperial Regional Detention Facility
1572 Gateway Rd, Calexico, CA 92231.