Feds Find Mold, Rotting Meat, and Civil Violations at Orange County Immigrant Detention Center

Officials with the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General’s Office are calling for immediate action from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to address a number of health and safety violations at the Theo Lacy jail in Orange County.

In November, federal officials made an unannounced visit to the facility, which houses 528 immigrants awaiting deportation. What they found shocked the conscience.

According to an Inspector General report released Wednesday, the jail’s immigration units were in an unsanitary state of disrepair. There was mold on bathroom stalls and in showers, with trash spread across cell floors. Detainees said they had been subjected to solitary confinement for periods of 24 hours. Immigrants with little to no criminal history were reportedly housed with those who had committed serious crimes. Officials then found “slimy, foul-smelling lunch meat” rotting inside refrigerators. Inmates told them they were fed the spoiled meat at mealtime and that they often washed it first to clear the sludge.

Officials with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department say they have already addressed all the issues flagged in the report and that the facility is now being run in compliance with health, safety and other detention standards. ICE officials remain on site.

“We are pleased that the Inspector General's findings were not of a more serious nature,” said Tom Dominguez, president of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, adding that the union is “hopeful the Sheriff makes further improvements throughout the entire county jail system.”

Immigrant rights advocates have been complaining about Theo Lacy for years. The facility has been the subject of an Orange County Grand Jury investigation (2013), federal complaint (2015), and detainee hunger strike (2016).

In light of the latest revelations, Christina Fialho, executive director of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement, is demanding that the federal government “end its relationship with the O.C. Sheriff's Department and stop squandering taxpayer dollars on detaining immigrants in a system rife with human and civil rights abuses.”


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