Biden to Close Massive ICE Detention Center While Illegal Migration Surges

Dismantling immigration enforcement in advance of presidential election

By Andrew R. Arthur on December 1, 2023

Fox News reported this week that the Biden administration is “expected” to close the massive, 1,940-bed ICE detention facility in Adelanto, Calif., even while CBP encounters at the Southwest border reach new heights. It is just the White House’s latest attempt to dismantle immigration enforcement in advance of a 2024 presidential election, with the possibility of a new — and differently minded — administration in the not-so-distant future.

Adelanto ICE Processing Center. Technically, it’s called the “Adelanto ICE Processing Center”, and the facility itself was purchased by the GEO Group from the city of Adelanto in June 2010. GEO entered into a contract with ICE “through an intergovernmental service agreement with the City of Adelanto” in May 2011 — notably in the heart of the Obama-Biden administration.

As GEO explains, “Medical care, food service, laundry, and general living conditions are provided” at the facility “in accordance with standards required ICE. Visitation, commissary, library, and legal services are provided as well.”

AB-32. A privately-owned ICE detention facility in deep-blue California was bound to be the subject of controversy, and that has definitely been true of Adelanto. California Assembly Bill 32 (AB-32), which was passed by the state legislature and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) in October 2019, would have banned private immigration detention facilities in the state.

Which was clearly — at least in part — the intent of the bill. Want proof? Consider the following text from the state Senate floor analysis of AB-32, issued in September 2019:

Since AB 32 regulates private for-profit companies that run facilities that detain people who are held against their will under criminal and civil law, including immigrants, this anti-immigrant President's Administration will likely sue California to enjoin this bill's enactment under various theories. [Emphasis added.]

The “anti-immigrant President” at the time in question, of course, was Donald Trump.

In late December 2019, it was GEO, however, that filed a federal court suit in California against Newsom and then-California state Attorney General Xavier Becerra (now the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) in their official capacities to block enforcement of AB-32 as it related to the company.

As I explained at the time:

There is a "safe harbor" provision within AB-32, new [California Penal Code] section 9505(a), which provides that section 9501 does not apply to any "private detention facility that is operating pursuant to a valid contract with a governmental entity that was in effect before January 1, 2020, for the duration of that contract, not to include any extensions made to or authorized by that contract."

This is an important provision, because, according to the complaint, GEO entered into 15-year contracts with ICE for use of the company's facilities at Adelanto ICE Processing Center, Central Valley Modified Community Correctional Facility (MCCF), Desert View MCCF, Golden State MCCF, and Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center, with periods of performance from December 20, 2019 through December 19, 2034, meaning that AB 32 should not affect operation of those facilities until that later date.

In October 2020, Judge Janis Sammartino of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California issued an order largely upholding the law. Trump’s DOJ entered the case at some point, and it and GEO appealed. In October 2021, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court order, concluding “AB 32 conflicted with federal law and could not stand”.

The state next sought rehearing of its appeal en banc — before a larger panel of circuit court judges — which was granted. In an 8-3 opinion issued in September 2022, however, the en banc court vacated the district court’s order, denying a preliminary injunction on constitutional grounds.

Roman v. Wolf and Rep. Obernolte’s Plea. While GEO was litigating that case, ICE was fighting a rearguard federal class action to bar it from placing new detainees at Adelanto due to the risk of the aliens contracting Covid-19, in Roman v. Wolf.

The plaintiffs in that case alleged that Adelanto had failed “to implement necessary protective measures — including social distancing, sanitation, and the provision of sufficient masks and soap”, in violation of “detainees’ due process rights under the Fifth Amendment”.

In April 2020, a U.S. district court judge certified the class — 1,370 aliens detained at Adelanto — and issued a preliminary injunction that, among other things, placed a moratorium on new detentions at the facility. The federal government appealed, but in October 2020 the Ninth Circuit issued an opinion largely affirming that district court order.

Fast forward, and the order is still in effect — likely the last lingering vestige of the national pandemic emergency the White House ended effective May 11. In October, Rep. Jay Obernolte (R-Calif.) — whose district includes the facility — sent a letter to ICE asking them to fully utilize Adelanto, particularly given the fact that the administration is releasing illegal entrants onto the streets under the guise of “limited space in detention facilities”.

That missive likely ended up in the circular filing cabinet, because on November 23, the New York Post reported that there were just six migrants being detained at the 1,940-bed Adelanto facility. And now, as noted above, they will likely be sent elsewhere if — as expected — ICE shutters the facility, an action that is reportedly “imminent”.

Cutting to the Chase. Respectfully, it’s time to cut to the chase and connect the dots. The president’s fellow Democrats — who have a hammerlock on the California state government — don’t like two things: (1) private detention facilities; and (2) ICE detaining migrants, period. I trust that Biden’s DOJ could have gotten the Roman order lifted, but they had no interest in doing so. Politics trumped necessity.

Of course, Biden doesn’t like migrant detention any more than his fellow partisans in Sacramento do, which is why he has released millions of them into the United States. Those releases, as a federal judge found in March, are the primary driver behind the ongoing migrant surge that has turned the Southwest border “into a meaningless line in the sand and little more than a speedbump for aliens flooding into the country”.

Those are the judge’s words, not mine, and while I concur, I would have also added that Biden’s release policies have also turned the U.S.-Mexico line into “a meaningless line in the sand and little more than a speedbump for” smugglers running tons of drugs, an unknowable number of “got-away” criminals, and Lord knows what else into the country and onto the streets. And the administration has additionally turned the ports of entry into turnstiles for more than a thousand inadmissible aliens daily, to boot.

The problem, from the administration’s perspective, is that Joe Biden won’t be president forever, and there’s no guarantee that his successor will be as blasé about immigration enforcement and border security as he is. Which is why the administration is actively dismantling DHS’s enforcement apparatus now.

That’s why Biden’s DHS secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, is shackling ICE officers to their desks, performing meaningless reviews of “aggravating” and “mitigating” factors before even interviewing criminal aliens. It’s why ICE attorneys are being forced to tank tens of thousands of pending cases in immigration court involving facially removable aliens. And it’s why DHS is closing a massive detention facility even as hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants pour over the Southwest border.

Adelanto’s just the latest example. As my colleague Jon Feere noted in October, the administration is using ICE’s “ever-more demanding” detention standards to discourage local jails from providing temporary bed space to the agency.

If the Biden administration can gut immigration enforcement in the time the president has left in office — be it one year or five — the zealots driving these policies know it will take years, billions in funding, and a load of political capital to put the pieces back in place. If you’re naïve enough to believe, however, that there’s some innocent explanation behind all this, I have a 1,940-bed facility to sell you, available soon.