Last week, a young man was released from the Los Angeles County Jails. But instead of returning home, he was transferred by the L.A. Sheriff’s Department to ICE custody. At a time when everyone is meant to practice social distancing and stay at home to protect each other and stop the spread of COVID-19, he now faces life-threatening conditions at the Adelanto immigration prison.
This could have been me.
Five years ago, when I was barely 20, the Sheriff’s Department transferred me to ICE.
My first encounter with the carceral state was at 15, when I was sentenced to a probation camp for 18 months. I served a “juvenile life” sentence in the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), where I made every use of the programs and services it had to offer. Still, after being discharged from DJJ, I was sent back to the county jail, and because of my immigration status at the time, the sheriffs transferred me to ICE.
Instead of reuniting with my family, I ended up in an ICE holding tank in Downtown L.A. I thought to myself: “I’ve got this. I’ve been through this before. I can handle it.” I was mentally preparing myself for another journey of incarceration now in the immigration system, but out of sheer luck, I was released after sharing my story with one of the agents. I am one of the rare exceptions. I was given the opportunity to rehabilitate myself and go home.
What the pandemic teaches us is that we are truly connected. COVID-19 knows no difference. When I think about the people currently trapped in Adelanto, I think about my friend and fellow advocate Jose Maldonado.
Jose spent a harrowing 46 days in the Adelanto immigration prison after sheriffs transferred him to ICE. A resident of Baldwin Park for over two decades, he was separated from his three kids who were all born here. It was again by luck that advocates found Jose and worked to get him released on bond.
At Adelanto, Jose saw the poor conditions and inadequate medical care firsthand. And this was under “normal” circumstances. Today, Adelanto is a tinderbox for an outbreak.
This all raises obvious questions: Why is L.A. County still transferring people to ICE? In a county that touts progress against mass incarceration, why are we transferring people who have already served their time and are due to return home to their families? Why is our county furthering family separation—not at the border—but right here at home?
Years ago, the City of L.A. on the other hand took a stand against ICE and stopped transferring Angelenos to ICE custody without a judicial warrant. And it didn’t take luck. It took the courage of people like you and me to speak up.
Join me, Jose, and 100 L.A.-based organizations and tell the L.A. County Sheriff and the Board of Supervisors to save lives and stop the transfers of Angelenos to ICE.
Kent Mendoza is manager of policy and community organizing at the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, a support network and advocacy organization for current and formerly incarcerated individuals.