“I want to tell you some things about Adelanto.”*
These are the words of Daria Voronina, who has been held at the Adelanto Detention Facility in California since October 21, 2015.
“I want to share my story with peoples who is fighting for the human rights in USA and who is not indifferent. Sorry for my bad English, I’m science educated girl, but I was learning English here, in jail, myself. I’m Jewish girl and I like people and I like helping people also. I want to tell you some things about Adelanto… It is very worse place, where is I ever been in my life. I receive here in facility mental and physical abuse and torture… We wanted to speak with Senator Feinstein, but we didn’t get a chance.”
Daria came to the United States last year from Russia, a professional psychologist with three college degrees and money in her bank account, but alone and fearing for her life in the wake of her partner’s murder in 2013. She was shocked to learn, along with many other asylum seekers, that her first home in the United States would be a jail cell.
Her plea, “Why must I suffer here? Because I search help from the US government? Why I need to be in jail?” echoes the messages of poems written a century ago in Chinese on the walls of the Angel Island Immigration Station, the first immigration detention facility in California and now a historic site in San Francisco Bay. Almost lost to history during renovations, one poem, now preserved at Angel Island, reads:
The Western styled buildings are lofty; but I have not the luck to live in them.
How was anyone to know that my dwelling place would be a prison?
Immigration detention has a long history in the United States, dating back to the late 1800s, but the practice of systematically detaining asylum seekers has resurfaced only in the last few decades — first as a Reagan Administration response to Latin American migration in the 1980s, then upheld by subsequent administrations, most notably by the Clinton Administration’s restrictive 1996 immigration reform laws.
Today’s immigration detention system has grown exponentially since 9/11 with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 2003, and a 2009 detention bed quota. President Obama has now deported more people than any president before him. Yet, despite the immense size and scope of the U.S. detention system, its operations remain largely invisible to the public.
Daria says she can see why.
*“GEO [the for-profit prison company that runs the Adelanto Detention Facility], nobody can observe them, everything locked, hided,” *she says.
On August 26, Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) visited the Adelanto Detention Facility as part of a tour. Daria wrote our organization, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), a letter that day, with an important message for Senator Feinstein and the public: “We had a hope to speak with her, but nothing happen… They prepared fake show for her. We detainees watched her and want to speak, but we didn’t have a chance. Americans and government need to know… too much suffering here.”
Daria attached a list of 18 “Claims for GEO,” attesting to medical negligence; a lack of recreation, exercise, privacy, or access to literature; poor quality food, water, clothing, and bedding; overcrowding; and high costs for phone calls and commissary items. The list ends with:Daria has filed multiple grievances with DHS while in immigration detention, but most have gone unanswered. The day after Senator Feinstein’s visit, Daria received a response to one of her complaints, reading: “This has been a pattern of your behavior… you could be considered abusing the grievance system and adverse action can be taken against you.”
Recently, a volunteer with CIVIC, Susan Lange, visited Daria and noticed a rash on her arms and swelling in her face, lips, and eyes from untreated food allergies. When Daria tried to give Susan papers, guards reprimanded Daria and cut their visit short. Susan recalls, “I never had a chance to see the papers that Daria wanted me to have. I heard the officer on the phone explaining that it was a list of grievances from some of the detainees with their signatures.”
When Daria asked the other women detained at Adelanto if they would file grievances, they said no.
“They don’t want to be against GEO because GEO already told them it’s will be bad for them cases and they fear GEO. All that system go on in a circle, everybody happy but not the detainees… peoples around earning big money for our bodies and told me I can’t defend myself… GEO pretending to be angel and it will be hard, tough to prove the inverse.
Maybe, if your group can have more letters and evidence, maybe will possible make difference.”
*This article features the first-hand account of a refugee in US immigration detention. It was written and edited by Tina Shull and Christina Fialho. Shull is a 2016 Soros Justice Fellow and the Editor-in-Chief of CIVIC’s new publication, IMM Print, which seeks to dismantle the immigration detention system from the inside by uplifting migrant voices. Fialho is a 2016 Ashoka Fellow and the co-founder/executive director of CIVIC.