For-Profit Immigration Detention Operator Accused of Sickening Detainees

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For-Profit Immigration Detention Operator Accused of Sickening Detainees

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On March 20, 2023, the Social Justice Legal Foundation filed a class action complaint against The Geo Group, one of the largest for-profit prison operators in the United States.[1] In the suit, the Foundation brought the claims of seven current and previous detainees who had suffered from prolonged exposure to HDQ Neutral, a cleaning agent and registered pesticide utilized by GEO in their detention facility in Adelanto, California.

Previously, the Environmental Protection Agency had inspected the Adelanto facility after receiving complaints from detainees held there. The inspection revealed that GEO employees were using the pesticide in a manner that violated the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (“FIFRA”).[2]  The GEO facility ignored safety instructions on the pesticide, mixed it in high dosages, and provided it to detainees without warning in unmarked spray bottles. Despite product label warnings to not inhale or contact the chemical, detainees reported inhaling it, seeing the spray fall onto their food, and contacting it directly on surfaces such as tables, phones, and even bedding. Detainees reported rashes, difficulty breathing, respiratory infections, irritated eyes and other symptoms to the EPA. Although the FIFRA violations were apparent, the EPA only issued a warning to adhere to the instructions of the pesticide and no enforcement actions followed.

Although it had been used previously, usage of HDQ Neutral ramped up during the Covid pandemic. The lawsuit alleges that the GEO staff were spraying the pesticide “every 15 to 30 minutes” in the facility. In addition to the details in the EPA warning, the lawsuit also alleges that the spray was sometimes used as a disciplinary measure and caused chronic long-term symptoms in the plaintiffs.[3]

Detention facilities like the one in Adelanto hold people who came to the United States fleeing persecution and death in their home countries. To be held in one of those facilities requires nothing more than crossing a border. We must hold these facilities accountable and continue to give a voice to the people held within them. If you know someone being held within a detention facility that has received inhumane treatment, please contact our offices today.

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