On May 4, Project South and the Penn State Law Center for Immigrant’s Rights Clinic released “Imprisoned Justice: Inside Two Georgia Immigration Detention Centers,” a report based on interviews at the Stewart Detention Center and the Irwin County Detention Center.
The report is compiled from a year’s worth of interviews at the centers with detained immigrants and immigration attorneys. It details shocking discoveries about human rights abuses at the Stewart Detention Center and the Irwin County Detention Centers, including inadequate food and water, lack of access to attorneys, and isolation.
The interviews were conducted between April 2016 and March 2017, detailing how undocumented immigrants are detained for months to years waiting their immigration hearings. The increase in detentions since 9/11 and the dangerous executive orders from Donald Trump has created an environment where immigrant detention centers are financially thriving, as thousands of undocumented people are rounded up daily.
According to the report, if the Stewart Detention Center is at full capacity, the facility earns $95,046 per day or $34,691,790 per year. Stewart is partnered with the Geo Group, a private prison corporation with a record of abuses.
The immigrants detained in Stewart and Irwin live under inhumane conditions. According to the report, “The living conditions in both detention centers neither comply with the international standards of detention nor do they comply with ICE’s Performance-Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS).” This is due to the remote locations of the centers, which keep immigrants away from family and from legal counsel, as well as arbitrary rules enforced by prison guards and staff, who do not allow lawyers to visit their clients without notice and prevents detainees from easily accessing the legal library.
One detainee explained his lack of contact with his family:
“I have been detained at Stewart for nearly two years. Last year, my family came but it is too far for only a one-hour visit. I told my family to stop visiting me. I told them not to worry. I didn’t want them wasting time and money for only an hour. For people to visit, they must have an ID or passport to get inside. Undocumented family members cannot visit us here. I miss my family.”
The food, water and hygiene standards in the centers are below standard. Immigrants often complained of spoiled food, lack of produce, and lack of food altogether–many complain of losing between 10 and 70 pounds while being detained. Immigrants make up for their lack by buying expensive food from the commissary, which places an undue financial burden on their family members.
One immigrant remarked, “Once a week, we are given chicken. Stewart provides beef, but it is too disgusting for anyone to eat. Once, for a whole week, we were fed beans that had maggots growing in them. I did not notice until the second day. I supplement my diet with food from the commissary. I spend around twenty to thirty-five dollars a week at the commissary.”
Shockingly, even the water at Stewart has been unfit for consumption, reported to be at times, “green, non-potable, smelling of feces, or completely shut off.”
As for Irwin, the conditions are not much better. Some detainees reported being forced to sign documents without speaking with their attorneys:
“A male detained immigrant from Cameroon knew a man who was told that he would be released if he just signed a stipulated order of removal. He also heard that ICE would show fake travel documents as part of its strategy. A male detained immigrant from Guatemala reported that he had not seen his deportation officer for his first three months of detention. Ultimately, he did not have enough time to communicate with the officer about his needs and desire to fight his case. Another male detained immigrant from Guatemala did not see his detention officer at all.”
This is beyond problematic. These conditions are human rights abuses. The report recommends both centers be shut down, and that ICE follows national and international law when dealing with undocumented immigrants. Specifically, the report calls for accountability for contractors, adherence to due process, qualified interpreters, access to attorneys and legal materials, adequate food and water, respect for dietary and religious needs, adequate access to medical and mental health services, and adherence to standards by all staff.
It is essential to maintain attentive to the ways undocumented individuals are treated in the US. This subculture of detention centers is often obscured from mainstream news due to non-legal status of undocumented individuals. Yet, these stories must come to light lest these abuses continue due to public apathy.