Immigrant rights groups held a virtual press conference on August 13 condemning the use of a chemical disinfectant at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in the Mojave Desert. A lawsuit asking for the release of all detainees was filed in April due to coronavirus concerns, and now members of Congress are calling for an investigation.
Advocates say they started receiving calls from detainees in May reporting symptoms. They allege they came into contact with a hazardous chemical staff were using in unventilated areas to disinfect for COVID-19.
“People were reporting having irritated eyes, having blisters on their skin. People were reporting coughing up blood, nausea, migraines, among other harsh symptoms," said Freedom for Immigrants advocate Paula Kahn at the press conference.
The disinfectant in question is HDQ Neutral. Earthjustice presented a factsheet of new research which shows a link between long term exposure and developing asthma. Due to this link, advocates say they are concerned detainees will be made more vulnerable to COVID-19.
The center claims they have used the HDQ Neutral for nearly 10 years. In a statement to the Desert Sun, Adelanto spokesman Alexx Pons says any assertions or claims that the disinfectant is being used against E.P.A. standards is false.
But advocates say detainees report they have not been given the same protective gear that staff use when spraying indoors—including during meals. Which Earthjustice attorney Raul Garcia, says is in violation of E.P.A. laws.
“The closed off conditions and the crowded conditions within Adelanto, and the fact that the detainees don’t have protection equipment against exposure to HDQ-Neutral, all of this is highly problematic and also very much illegal,” said Garcia.
Riverside Congressman Mark Takano is currently leading an effort with 30 members of Congress asking the Homeland Security Inspector General to investigate. He expressed his concern for the detainees.
“For those people detained we need to make sure that the GEO Group and others who operate for profit facilities like this, must adhere not to the minimum standards, but to enhanced standards of safety,” said Takano.
The congressman is also calling for the center to accelerate the release of detainees in order to minimize the number of people in custody.