‘They’re Treating Us Like Animals’: Detainees Say Disinfectant Used by ICE Is Making Them Sick

Adelanto ICE center detainees.

Image via Associated Press

By Giselle Balido

June 24, 2020

The disinfectant, which has proven toxic, should only be used outdoors or in a well-ventilated area, according to the manufacturer’s own safety standards.

At the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in San Bernardino County, California, a disinfectant, HDQ Neutral, was being sprayed around housing units every 15 to 30 minutes, according to a complaint filed by the Inland Coalition for Immigrant Justice and Freedom for Immigrants on behalf of the detainees. 

But according to the manufacturer’s own safety sheet, the disinfectant should only be used outdoors or in a well-ventilated area. 

“The guards have started spraying this chemical everywhere, all over everything. It causes a terrible reaction on our skin…”

“When I blow my nose, blood comes out. One person fainted and was taken out. I don’t know what happened to them. There is no fresh air.”

“I am still bleeding more than five hours later.”“They are treating us like animals.”

These are the desperate testimonies, included in the complaint, from some of the men and women detained at the facility, which currently holds approximately 1,100 immigrants, including asylum seekers and people who are fighting deportation.

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Several others have reported experiencing severe symptoms such as blisters, rashes, bleeding, fainting, breathing difficulties, headaches, stomach pains and nausea.


Yet despite these accounts, the center has defended its use of the chemical, telling The Americano in an emailed statement that “ICE staff and facility strictly adhere to National Detention Standards (NDS), which also detail standards concerning environmental health and safety.” 

A Troubled History

However, Dulce Garcia, Executive Director of Border Angels, a Sand Diego based organization focused on migrant rights, immigration reform, and the prevention of immigrant deaths along the border, told The Americano that the Adelanto facility has a history of housing immigrants and migrants in “atrocious” conditions.  

“I have a brother that was in immigration detention for months. That experience changed him and is forever in my mind,” says García.

Every week, she says, she receives calls from people in detention expressing their fear of dying inside. “It is essentially a death sentence from which people desperately seek to get out.”

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The problem seems to stem from the fact that many of these facilities are run by private corporations. They are overseen by ICE, but there is no oversight of ICE.

“So long as there is no accountability, we will continue to hear of inhumane treatment in these detentions and even more deaths,” she says. “For years we have heard first-hand testimonies about how Adelanto staff and ICE officers regularly violate or limit their rights. But these violations are occurring all across the US.”

“More and More People Are Falling Ill”

Katie Shepherd, National Advocacy Counsel at the American Immigration Council, agrees that the government has a long track record of failing to provide adequate medical and mental health care, and other critical services, to individuals in ICE detention facilities.

“ICE detention facilities, and the private prison companies that frequently operate these centers, have a financial incentive to cut corners in order to reduce costs and increase profit margins. We are seeing this play out in extreme ways during the pandemic, as more and more people are falling ill,” Shepherd told The Americano.

“We hear reports of immigrants being subjected to verbal and physical assault in retaliation for speaking out about the conditions and lack of personal protective equipment, and immigrants being held in solitary confinement for long periods of time in an attempt to contain the virus.” 

Taking Action

The solution, according to Shepherd, is for Congress to stop or decrease funding to ICE for the purposes of detention, and increase funding for community-based alternatives to detention (ATDs), “which have proven to be much more humane and much less costly,” she says.

But for change to happen, the government needs to feel the people’s demand for a more humane solution to detainment at ICE centers. García strongly believes that change is possible by [safely] participating in the calls-to-action set forth by advocacy organizations and coalitions, and by exercising the right vote. 

“We need people in office, at every level, that lead with morals and that value all human life equally. We need to all come together to add pressure and to demonstrate that “Aquí estamos y no nos vamos”. Together we have the power to make the change we desire.” 


CATEGORIES: Health | Immigration | National | Safety


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