Living in the Shadows: Detention centers deaths raise immigrant rights questions [Part I]

Feb. 22, 2014 / By

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Photos by Alonso Yáñez /La Opinión



Juana Lopez squeezed her son’s hands and caressed his forehead.

“I’m here, mi’jo,” she said. “Your mom’s here. React. Try your best.” That was the first time Lopez had seen her son in more than three months. That day, with her son unconscious and breathing with an artificial respirator inserted in him, was also the last day she saw Fernando alive. Fernando Dominguez Valdivia, a 58-year-old Los Angeles resident, died March 4, 2012, eight days after his mother visited him at Victor Valley Community Hospital. He had developed bronchopneumonia during the 100 days that he was under the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). “It was negligence. It was lack of medical attention,” Lopez said. “If that happened to my son, it’s going to continue to happen to everybody who ends up there, that they don’t give them the treatment they should.” Dominguez Valdivia was detained two months and a half at the Adelanto Immigration Center, a detention complex for men built in the Mojave Desert, about 90 miles northeast of Los Angeles. It was constructed in 1991 and used for several years to house convicts until the GEO Group, an international detention center private corporation, bought it in 2010. In May 2011 a contract was signed with ICE to house immigrants in two wings, east and west. Adelanto has new infrastructure in its west wing, but detainees in Adelanto told Univision that the east wing had leaking, broken pipes. That’s where Valdivia stayed while he fought bronchopneumonia without receiving adequate medical attention. Once in the hospital, the infection spread to the bloodstream, which eventually resulted in multi-organ failure. The U.S. Office of Detention Oversight found that Dominguez Valdivia’s death could have been prevented and that the center did not comply with the detention guidelines set by ICE. Although Dominguez Valdivia’s death is the only one that has occurred in Adelanto, there have been more than 130 other deaths since 2003 in the 250 detention centers for immigrants in the country.

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