June 21, 2013
The American Civil Liberties Union is sending letters to sheriff departments across Georgia to ask them to address the practice of requiring detained individuals to remove religious headwear. The organization says it’s making the request after learning about several people who were in custody in Georgia jails that were forced to remove their religious attire.
The ACLU says it’s aware of three incidents where those detained in Georgia jails were asked to remove their religious headwear. Azadeh Shahshahani Directs the National Security/Immigrants' Rights Project for the ACLU of Georgia. She says unless the government can show the restriction is absolutely necessary and is for a very important purpose, the headwear’s removal violates the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000.
“The purpose of the letter is just to ensure the sheriffs are aware of what the law is and to ensure individuals’ rights to religious liberty are being respected going forward.”
June 20, 2013
The ACLU of Georgia has sent letters and public records requests to sheriffs across the state to address the practice of requiring detained individuals to remove religious headwear. This practice was brought to our attention when several detained individuals of faith were forced to remove their religious headgear at various Georgia jails, despite assertions of religious obligations. We have advised the sheriffs that unless the government can demonstrate that this requirement is “the least restrictive means” of furthering “a compelling governmental interest,” the practice of forcing detained individuals to remove religious attire violates individuals’ rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) as well as other legal authorities. In addition to asking the sheriffs to produce pertinent policies and any complaints they had received, we urged them to review their policies and guidelines to ensure they are consistent with RLUIPA and other legal requirements. To view a copy of the letter click here.
May 23, 2013
Earlier this month, we celebrated Mother's Day while thousands of immigrant women across the country were separated from their children and families. They were imprisoned in the more than 250 facilities nationwide including the two in Georgia which currently detain women.
Women in immigration detention facilities including the Irwin County Detention Center and the North Georgia Detention Center face particularly painful circumstances as the ACLU of Georgia documented in our report released last year, "Prisoners of Profit: Immigrants and Detention in Georgia."
Victims of Abuse
Women often end up in detention because they were victims of abuse. More than half of the women we interviewed had been victims of domestic violence. Veronica and Maria Francisco, two women detained at the North Georgia Detention Center, said they had never called the police when they were being beaten by their partners because they were afraid of being arrested and deported, which would hurt not only them but their children as well. Maria's husband actually threatened to call ICE and have her deported if she complained about the beatings. She believed him and never called for help. Her worst fears came true when she was finally arrested after police arrived at her home in response to a domestic violence call.
Separation From Families and Children
Many of the women we interviewed were worried for their children because they were no longer with any immediate relatives or living at their own homes. Dulce Bolanos Estrada, who fled to Georgia from New Orleans to escape an abusive husband, has never been convicted of a crime. When she was detained, her young children (ages two, five, and seven), all U.S. citizens, were staying with relatives because she was their only caregiver. Her detention, she said, had torn apart the home she kept together.
Clara, who had already received her final removal order, was terrified that her children, U.S. citizens, would be sent to their abusive father or put in state custody because she was told she would be deported regardless of the dates of her pending custody case. Because she could not afford an attorney, she had many questions about the future well-being and rights of her children, and she had no idea to whom she could turn.
Maria Francisco has four U.S. citizen children; two of them are still too young to attend school. They had been living with a relative since Maria's detainment. She did not know what she would do if she were deported. She wanted her children in good schools because as Americans, they deserved to attend American schools. She had not seen her children at all in the two months she had been detained.
Veronica's children, all three of whom are U.S. citizens, were back in Mexico because she had no family or friends who could provide a safe place for her children to live in the U.S. At the time we spoke with her, Veronica had been detained for almost four months, and the extent of her record was a ticket for driving without insurance or a license.
Women face particular obstacles pertaining to their reproductive health in detention. When Natalia Elzaurdia was detained at the North Georgia Detention Center in May 2011, she and her fiancé were expecting their first child. At intake, Natalia told the nurse at the medical unit that she was four months pregnant. The nurse then conducted a urine test, and told Natalia that she was not pregnant. Natalia asked her to call the Gwinnett County Detention Center where she had previously taken two pregnancy tests. The nurse refused to call and conducted a chest xray against Natalia's protestations. Natalia asked for a blood test instead. The next day a blood test confirmed she was pregnant.
Natalia had requested to see a gynecologist as soon as she entered NGDC. At the time of the interview, days after she put in her request, she had yet to see a gynecologist. "I put in requests to two nurses and my deportation officer and still my concerns have not been addressed. I experience cramps in my abdomen daily. I want an ultrasound; I haven't been given one yet and I'm four months pregnant." Although she requested to see a doctor, Natalia only saw nurses. Natalia's family wrote to the warden and other NGDC officials, as well as DHS regarding Natalia's treatment, but never received a response.
Women often face inadequate hygiene conditions in detention, jeopardizing their health. At Irwin, the underwear women receive upon arrival is often used, even showing stains or signs that it is not properly washed. Veronica was issued soiled undergarments at intake and she asked if she could have clean ones. She was refused and told to wear what she was given. As a result of wearing the soiled undergarments, Veronica developed a serious infection that ultimately left scars on her legs and genitals.
In the spring of 2011, a rash broke out among the women in one unit at Irwin, and most of them had painful bumps on their chests. In July 2011, another women's unit had a similar rash outbreak, and one woman had the rash spread across her back and side. None of the women interviewed ever found out why these outbreaks occurred, or what exactly they had contracted.
Daniela Esquivela told us that women detained at the North Georgia Detention Center are given a pack of sanitary napkins for when they are menstruating, but that they must ask for more once they run out. The guards only give out three or four at a time, and if the women need more, they have to keep going back to ask for more. Geraldine Ayala also added that they sometimes have to wait to get more sanitary napkins because "they run out."
The quality and quantity of the food in detention is often lacking, especially affecting pregnant women. The schedule of the meals at the North Georgia Detention Center posed particular concern for Natalia in light of her pregnancy. Natalia stated that "the feeding times are ridiculous; there are thirteen hours between dinner and breakfast." Although Natalia was eventually given increased portions due to her pregnancy, she was not given meals more frequently. In addition, it took two or three days once her request was approved for the portions to increase.
Need for Reform
It is past time to close down the worst immigration detention centers in the country and treat detention as the last resort rather than throw immigrants in jail-like conditions -- including individuals who have been here for years, those who have only committed minor violations, those who have U.S. citizens and relatives as spouses or children, and those who have strong claims to remain in the United States.
The immigration reform bill introduced recently in the Senate contains important detention reforms, such as prompt bond hearings, alternatives to detention in immigration jails, and oversight of detention facilities. The bill also recognizes the importance of appointed counsel for those with mental disabilities, unaccompanied children, and other vulnerable populations.
We must continue to fight every step of the way to ensure immigration reform achieves a roadmap to citizenship for immigrants and an immigration process that respects the civil rights and liberties of immigrants, including women in deportation proceedings. With the hope that next Mother's Day, all detained immigrant mothers will be reunited with their families.
March 18, 2013
Georgia Detention Watch presents
a panel discussion featuring special guest Jessica Colotl
Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 12:00 pm
4200 Perimeter Park South, Suite #205
Atlanta, GA 30341
co-host: ACLU of Georgia
November 21, 2012
The cost of this system today is 1.7 billion dollars at taxpayer expense.
In detention, immigrants continue to be subject to punitive treatment, and are denied basic needs, such as contact with lawyers and loved ones, inadequate food and hygiene, and access to fresh air and sunlight. They continue to get injured, sick, and die without timely medical care. They continue to endure racial slurs and discriminatory treatment by prison staff, and are vulnerable to rape and assault. Since 2003, a reported 131 people have died in immigration custody.
These conditions are unacceptable and not in the spirit of the Administration’s promised reforms.
The Stewart Detention Center in Georgia in many ways exemplifies the problems with using remote, highly restrictive facilities to hold immigrants.
At Stewart, the medical and mental health care unit is understaffed, resulting in lack of adequately licensed health care professionals, delays in receiving care, and inadequate mental health care services. From April 2009 to the summer of 2012, there was no doctor at Stewart, which means the facility was without a physician for more than three years. Currently there is only one doctor and only seven nurses on staff at the 1,752-bed facility, which is a ratio of 1 nurse per 250 prisoners. As the ACLU of Georgia documented in our May 2012 report, “Prisoners of Profit: Immigrants and Detention in Georgia,” immigrants reported that it can take days or even weeks for medical requests to be answered. In addition, individuals with mental disabilities are routinely placed in solitary confinement leading to further deterioration of their mental health.
One such individual is Ermis Calderon, a young man who suffers from bipolar disorder and frequent panic attacks. Before his detention at Stewart, Ermis had struggled with addiction issues and depression. Both had been effectively treated through counseling, medication, and support programmes. All that ended when he arrived at Stewart. Less than a week after his detention at Stewart, without a support system, a therapist, or his regularly prescribed medication, Ermis suffered a panic attack. While waiting for an appointment to re-visit his medication levels, Ermis sensed a panic attack coming. "I just wanted to take my clothes off so I could breathe, so I asked the guard if I could be taken back to my cell," he said. The guard refused.
As he felt his heart begin to race and his vision blur, Ermis asked if he could at least go to the restroom. Again he was denied. An attack set in. He began hitting himself in the head and striking his head against the wall. Having observed this, four guards threw him to floor, cuffed him, and held him to ground until he was still. Although no violence or threats of violence occurred during the episode, Ermis was placed in segregation and kept in segregation for almost the entire time he was detained, which was over six months. When the ACLU of Georgia spoke with Ermis in September 2011, his knuckles were bruised from punching the wall of his cell. His arms and wrists were still raw and scabbed from a recent suicide attempt.
"I feel like I'm going crazy. My medicine is always changing, and it makes me crazy. When I get upset, they just give me more medicine. I can't tell them I'm really upset or they just put me in a helmet and handcuffs for a few days. That's torture! I don't see anybody. I don't really care about anything. I just want to get out and get into a program that will help me."
Growing outrage in the community led to Friday’s vigil and march in Lumpkin, Georgia calling for the closing of the Stewart Detention Center. As part of a national campaign to expose and close the 10 worst facilities in the country, more than 200 community leaders and advocates gathered for a vigil at Lumpkin town square and then marched to the Stewart Detention Center. Among our speakers were individuals formerly detained at the Stewart Detention Center, such as Pedro Guzman, as well as family members of currently detained immigrants.
"After twenty months away from home, you lose faith, you feel worthless, this place breaks you, it is made to break your soul. The constant screaming and verbal abuse the guards inflict on the detainees is just made to break your soul and handicap you," said Pedro Guzman.
Stewart is not the exception, but the rule, in immigration detention today. It is unacceptable to be spending billions in taxpayer dollars every year to contract with corporations and counties that perpetrate human rights abuses against this vulnerable population at a time of fiscal crisis.
November 15, 2012
Washington, DC–The immigration detention system in the United States has grown drastically over the last 15 years and the appalling conditions in the detention centers that house immigrants have reached a tipping point. Today, national and local leaders responded by saying, “enough is enough!”
On a press call today, Rep. Jared Polis (CO-02) and Bishop Minerva Carcaño joined national and local leaders from the Detention Watch Network to release a series of reports titled, “Expose and Close,” to reveal the widespread pattern of mistreatment at ten of the worst immigrant prisons across the country. Today, speakers called on President Obama to do what’s right and close these detention centers as well as issued a list of reforms to ensure the safety, dignity and well-being of immigrants held in detention.
According toAndrea Black,Executive Director, Detention Watch Network, “We hope that the Administration will act. ICE claims it has taken steps to reform the detention system, but the people actually in detention are suffering as much as ever. In his second term, the president has the power to bring about change that will uplift immigrants instead of lock them up.”
Among the report’s findings:
President Obama made promises to reform this inhumane system in 2009, and while there were some efforts to improve the system, the reality on the ground has not changed. Pedro Guzman, formerly detained at the Stewart Detention Center, shared his firsthand experience: “We were treated like animals-- held in pod with 64 people, no privacy, eating food that was inedible and constant yelling and disrespect from the officers. We rarely had court dates even after they were already scheduled, and they made it impossible to adjust your status in a legal and efficient way. There is absolutely no justice in the detention system.”
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis (CO-02)also joined today’s call for justice: “It needn’t take the passage of comprehensive immigration reform for us to work together to reform the immigration detention system and close the most egregious centers highlighted in these reports. Taxpayers shouldn’t be asked to continue to support this waste of money and resources.”
Conditions at 10 of the worst jails and prisons that house immigrants have gotten so bad, the only option is to begin shutting them down. Azadeh N. Shahshahani, National Security/Immigrants' Rights Project Director of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Georgia and President of National Lawyers Guild, said, “The human rights abuses at the Irwin County Detention Center and the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia in many ways exemplify the problems with using remote, highly restrictive facilities to hold immigrants.
These conditions are unacceptable and not in the spirit of the Administration’s promised reforms."
“While immigrants suffer under prolonged detention at Polk County and the Houston Processing Center, private prison corporations are getting rich,” saidBob Libal, Executive Director of Grassroots Leadership. “It doesn’t have to be this way. ICE should prioritize release of immigrants in community support programs that are far more humane, less costly, and are effective at ensuring immigrants are able to appear at their hearings.”
SaidBishop Minerva G. Carcaño,Resident Bishop of the Los Angeles Area of the United Methodist Church, “The detention of hundreds of thousands of immigrants in this country for profit and political gain is a moral outrage. Detention centers are not the answer to our broken immigration policies.”
In conjunction with today’s national launch, Detention Watch Network members around the country will be releasing their local reports in a coordinated effort to call for closure of these ten jails and prisons across the nation that exemplify some of the most appalling conditions of immigrant detention. These facilities include Etowah County Detention Center (AL), Pinal County Jail (AZ), Houston Processing Center (TX), Polk County Detention Facility (TX), Stewart Detention Center (GA), Irwin County Jail (GA), Hudson County Jail (NJ), Theo Lacy Detention Center (CA), Tri-County Detention Center (IL), and Baker County Jail (FL).
November 14, 2012
Community Leaders Hold Vigil and Launch New Campaign to “Expose and Close” Widespread Abuse at Stewart and Irwin Detention Centers
New Report Calls Stewart and Irwin two of the 10 Worst Detention Centers in the Country and Demands President Obama Restore Basic Dignity
Atlanta, Georgia–The immigration detention system in the United States has grown drastically over the last 15 years and the appalling conditions in the detention centers that house immigrants have reached a tipping point.
President Obama made promises to reform this inhumane system in 2009, but the reality on the ground has not changed. Now, conditions at the jails and prisons that house immigrants have gotten so bad, the only option is to begin shutting them down.
On Friday, November 16th, as part of a nationwide campaign launch, community leaders and advocates will hold their sixth vigil at the Stewart Detention Center and release a report designating it and the Irwin County Detention Center as two of the ten worst in the country. Leaders will call on President Obama to close the prison-like facilities in Stewart and Irwin counties, and issue a list of reforms to ensure the safety, dignity, and well-being of immigrants held in detention.
The report will follow the May 2012 ACLU of Georgia report “Prisoners of Profit: Immigrants and Detention in Georgia” which detailed abuses at the two facilities and called for their closure.
This action is part of a series of reports and coordinated effort to highlight ten detention centers across the nation that exemplify the appalling conditions of immigrant detention, including Etowah County Detention Center (AL), Pinal County Jail (AZ), Houston Processing Center (TX), Polk County Detention Facility (TX), Stewart Detention Center (GA), Irwin County Jail (GA), Hudson County Jail (NJ), Theo Lacy Detention Center (CA), Tri-County Detention Center (IL), and Baker County Jail (FL).
WHAT:Vigil and march to “Expose and Close” Stewart and Irwin Detention Centers
WHEN:Friday, November 16, 2012 at 10 a.m.
Azadeh Shahshahani, ACLU of Georgia
Chad Hyatt, musician and pastor at Mercy Community Church (Atlanta)
Fr. Ishmael Morenofrom Honduras
Jason Chin, musician
Sister JoAnn Persch, Sisters of Mercy (Chicago)
Laria Marie Vides, wife of detainee
Mary Strauss, wife of detainee
Pedro Guzman, formerly detained at Stewart Detention Center
The States,musical group
Terence Courtney,Black Alliance for Just Immigration
This vigil will be organized by Georgia Detention Watch in collaboration with SOA Watch, ACLU of Georgia, Alterna, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Footprints for Peace, Grassroots Leadership, International Action Center of Atlanta, National Lawyer Guild Georgia Chapter, Nipponzan Myohoji Atlanta Dojo and the Southern Anti-Racist Network,.
WHERE:The vigil begins at the Lumpkin, GA town square located at the intersection of Main Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive. The march will end two miles away at the Stewart Detention Center on CCA Road, also in Lumpkin.
July 03, 2012
In late June, the ACLU delivered a statement to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in response to the United Nations Special Rapporteur's report on detention of migrants. The report sets out the international and regional human rights legal framework applicable to the detention of migrants, including in regards to vulnerable groups with special protection needs, and discusses alternatives to detention. While the report does not discuss country-specific immigration detention policies and practices, it offers useful recommendations and urges governments to adopt a human rights-based approach.
The U.S. immigration detention system locks up tens of thousands of immigrants unnecessarily every year, exposing detainees -- including vulnerable populations such as persons with mental disabilities, asylum-seekers, women, children and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals -- to brutal and inhumane conditions of confinement at massive costs to American taxpayers... This system of mass detention persists despite the fact that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) acknowledges that most immigration detainees 'have a low propensity for violence.'
The ACLU statement also highlighted the May 2012 ACLU of Georgia report titled "Prisoners of Profit: Immigrants and Detention in Georgia." The report covers the four immigration detention centers in Georgia including the largest immigration detention facility in the United States, the Stewart Detention Center. Three of the four facilities are operated by corporations, including Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest owner and operator of privatized correctional and detention facilities in the U.S.
May 29, 2012
By Azadeh Shahshahani
Atlanta, GA - Over the past decade, there has been an alarming increase in the use of immigration detention in the United States. From 2001 to 2010, the number of immigrants held in immigration detention each year nearly doubled from 209,000 per year to over 363,000.
The increasing use of immigration detention is an unnecessary drain on government resources and taxpayer dollars. In 2012, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) maintained a record-high daily detention capacity of 34,000 beds, costing taxpayers $2bn. As of November 2011, the US government spent approximately $166 per day to hold one immigrant in detention. This is 18 times greater than the $8.88 per day it costs for more efficient, highly effective, and humane alternatives to detention.
The for-profit prison industry is the main beneficiary of the ever-expanding, unregulated immigration system in the US. Since 2001, private corporations have gained increasing control over immigration detention facilities in the US and continue to bring in record profits.