An immigrant takes food into a cell for incoming ICE detainees at the Adelanto immigration detention center, which is run by the Geo Group Inc (GEO.N), in Adelanto, California, U.S., April 13, 2017. © 2017 Reuters/Lucy Nicholson

(San Francisco, CA) – California has a clear interest in monitoring dire health and safety conditions in immigrant detention centers in the state, three human and immigrant rights groups said today in a friend-of-the-court brief.

Human Rights Watch, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, and Freedom for Immigrants (formerly CIVIC) filed the amicus brief in a federal district court in the case of United States v. California. The lawsuit was brought by the United States Department of Justice against California to block three state laws aimed at protecting the rights of immigrants. In their brief, the groups described a host of inhumane conditions in California federal immigrant detention centers, from serious, sometimes deadly, lack of adequate medical care to sexual abuse.

“California has a responsibility to ensure effective monitoring of what happens to people detained throughout the state in immigration cases,” said Grisel Ruiz, staff attorney at the Immigrant Legal Resource Center. “The people affected by this case include state residents, people who work here, live here, go to church here, and parent their children here. They are connected to California and California is deeply connected to them.”

The law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman served as counsel on the brief.

One of the California laws, AB 103, directs the state attorney general to monitor and report on conditions of confinement and due process in immigration detention centers in the state.

Except for Texas, more people are detained in California – about 5,500 on any given day – than in any other state. Transparency around abusive conditions in immigration detention centers is desperately needed, the rights groups said. The brief includes examples of a range of abuses, including dangerously inadequate and sometimes fatal medical care, sexual abuse, and mistreatment of pregnant women and other vulnerable groups.

In one example described in the brief, Raul Ernesto Morales-Ramos, 44, died in April 2015 in California’s Adelanto Detention Facility from organ failure with widespread signs of cancer. He had complained of pain and exhibited cancer symptoms over the course of two years, and had a large, clearly visible abdominal mass, but did not see a doctor until just a month before he died. Doctors who reviewed the case concluded that his cancer may have been treatable had he been diagnosed and treated sooner.

“The brief reveals examples of deaths, assault, and mistreatment that the federal government repeatedly tries to hide about immigration detention,” said Clara Long, senior researcher in the US Program at Human Rights Watch. “Attorney General Jeff Sessions is challenging a California law that would bring out of the shadows horrific treatment in immigration detention that should raise huge concerns.”

The groups also provided evidence that California’s immigration detention centers are not addressing a worryingly high rate of suicides, some of which have been linked to the use of isolation for people with mental health conditions. Over thirty months leading up to a legal action in 2016, Yuba County Jail had 41 suicide attempts, including both immigration detainees and county inmates.

Sexual and physical abuse is a serious problem in California’s immigration detention centers, and certain populations such as LGBTQ people face higher risks of abuse, the groups said.

Through government data, we found that two California facilities – Adelanto and Otay Mesa Detention Center – are among the top five in the nation for sexual assault complaints,” said Christina Fialho, co-founder and executive director of Freedom for Immigrants (formerly CIVIC). “The federal government is trying to sweep these abuses under the rug, keeping the public in the dark about how their taxpayer dollars are contributing to human suffering in immigration detention.”