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Private Prison Company Poisoned Immigrants at Adelanto for A Decade

GEO group claims that practices were suitable for “Animal Premise Disinfectant”


Erin Fitzgerald, Press Secretary at Earthjustice  

Robert Valencia, Spanish Language Media Strategist at Earthjustice   

Armando Carmona, (951) 966-6500, Inland Empire Coalition for Immigrant Justice  

After seven months of investigation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a final report and an official Notice of Warning to the GEO Group (GEO) for multiple violations in response to their misuse of the toxic pesticide HDQ Neutral inside the Adelanto Detention Facility (Adelanto). The EPA investigation found that GEO, the private prison company that runs Adelanto and over 30 other ICE detention facilities across the U.S., ordered GEO staff and those in custody to administer HDQ Neutral without proper ventilation, multiple times a day. Ingredients found in HDQ Neutral have been linked to asthma, infertility, birth defects, and other respiratory and reproductive harms. One of the active ingredients in HDQ Neutral can even damage human DNA.

EPA based its report on interviews with GEO staff and detained immigrants at Adelanto, which can cage up to 2,000 immigrants daily and located in the desert just north of San Bernardino, CA. EPA found GEO responsible for violating six different provisions of the pesticide label for HDQ Neutral, which was applied several times a day over a nine-year period. This amounts to an unquantifiable number, but potentially tens of thousands, of individual violations during that time. In September 2020, a California District Court ordered that GEO immediately discontinue the use of HDQ Neutral due to the potential threat of the pesticide.

Migrants who participated in the “volunteer” work program were given HDQ Neutral in 32-ounce spray bottles and mop buckets, often without safety labels or instructions attached, without being required to wear the necessary protective equipment when handling the industrial pesticide. Only one pair of goggles was provided for all the detained workers in each unit. GEO upheld two separate sets of requirements for personal protective equipment, depending on whether it was their staff or those in custody applying the toxic pesticide.

EPA also said GEO was not diluting HDQ Neutral properly and exposing detained migrants to a mixture that was twice as concentrated as the label permits. In response to the EPA inspector’s concerns about this practice, GEO said the label allows for a more concentrated mixture of HDQ Neutral for “animal premise disinfectant or animal virucidal uses.” When asked by the EPA about the reports of adverse health effects on detained individuals or policies when individuals fall ill, GEO declined to answer.

“This report confirms what those in detention have known for far too long — that GEO doesn’t care about the health and safety of immigrants,” said the Shut Down Adelanto Coalition. “But more than that, they don’t even regard immigrants as human. There is no reform possible when we are starting the conversation with an argument about the basic humanity of a group of people. This is disgusting and heart-breaking.”

For years, the facility at Adelanto has faced intense pressure from local and national advocates over its inhumane detention practices, and particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last month, President Biden signed an Executive Order eliminating private prisons. However, this order does not apply to immigration detention facilities, which are under the authority of the Department of Homeland Security.

GEO’s responses to this investigation are shocking and these ongoing failures have created conditions that make it impossible to keep those in custody safe. Conditions in migrant detention facilities, like Adelanto, are not safe, are inhumane, and cannot be allowed to continue operating. The United States government continues to show flagrant disregard for the health of those in custody, including forced sterilization, uncontrolled outbreaks of COVID-19, sexual abuse and attempting to build other facilities on highly toxic Superfund sites. Earthjustice and the Shut Down Adelanto Coalition are calling for the immediate release of everyone being held in migrant detention facilities.

The Shut Down Adelanto Coalition consists of Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights, Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice, Detention Watch Network, Freedom for Immigrants, Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project, Nikkei Progressives and Earthjustice, among others.

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