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Federal Deportation Detainees Stage Sit-In to Protest Delayed Hearings
Detention Center in Lancaster, California refused to return to their
barracks for four hours after their 7 a.m. breakfast until prison officials
assured them that their concerns regarding overdue hearings would be addressed.
The detainees sought attention from overflying news helicopters by
spreading bed sheets to spell out "HELP," "NO VIOLENCIA" and "LIBERTY" on
the Center's lawn. Others used their bodies to spell out messages. Although
Los Angeles Sheriff's deputies and prison guards in riot gear stood nearby,
the protest never became violent. The prisoners moved only when
representatives from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agencies
agreed to hear their complaints of months of detention without any hearings.
Typically, such detainees (mostly from Mexico and Central America) wait two
weeks to one month for deportation hearings, but with the population at
Mira Loma growing from 600 to 950 in recent years, court delays are now
longer. However, court officials disputed the prisoners' claims, saying
that hearings are presently held within about 30 days. Many detainees are
simply anxious to get to court to waive their hearing rights and go home.
The last protest at Mira Loma was in 1997 over similar delay concerns,
which was spawned by a sudden logjam resulting from the then-new 1996 law
that all such deportation candidates must remain in custody pending
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