For years, immigrant rights activists have fought to shut down a controversial immigration enforcement program operating in jails in Georgia and across the nation.
Started during the George W. Bush administration, the Secure Communities program works by comparing inmates’ fingerprints against immigration records in federal databases. Supporters say the program has substantially curbed illegal immigration. Critics say it ensnares low-level offenders with families and deep roots in the U.S.
In September, the Fulton County Board of Commissioners moved to limit the county’s compliance with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests to hold people in jail beyond the time they would otherwise be released so that the government can investigate their immigration status. These holds are known as ICE detainers.
The commissioners were right to question the practice.
In June 2011 while traveling on Lawrenceville Highway in Gwinnett County, Georgia, Bonnie Horton and her husband were stopped at a roadblock and surrounded by uniformed officers and police vehicles. Bonnie remembers seeing at least five cars pulled over on the side of the road and young children and babies in at least two of those cars.
All cars proceeding on that road were stopped at the roadblock. Most cars stopped for about a minute. As Bonnie and her husband approached the roadblock, they had their windows rolled down. She witnessed a man being taken out of one of the cars by officers, possibly being arrested. Alongside the same car stood a woman with a baby. Another car next to theirs had drivers and passengers inside who appeared to be Latino. She heard an officer asking them to provide proof of citizenship. However, Bonnie and her husband, who are Caucasian, were only asked to show proof of insurance and residence in Gwinnett County. They showed their driver’s licenses as evidence of residency, and were allowed to proceed without incident.
A group of advocates for immigrants to Georgia says there has been a dramatic rise in the number of arrests and detainments of immigrants in the last few years.
Alicia Cruz says she was pulled over in Conyers about four months ago.
(Cruz speaks in Spanish followed by voice of translator): “My kids were with me, and the police officers kneeled my children down and pointed them, gun-pointed them.”
Cruz speaks very little English and says the officer spoke no Spanish. She says the officer took her to jail for driving without a license. She is currently out on bond, but she is undocumented and fears she will be detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The kitchen of the detention center here was bustling as a dozen immigrants boiled beans and grilled hot dogs, preparing lunch for about 900 other detainees. Elsewhere, guards stood sentry and managers took head counts, but the detainees were doing most of the work — mopping bathroom stalls, folding linens, stocking commissary shelves.
As the federal government cracks down on immigrants in the country illegally and forbids businesses to hire them, it is relying on tens of thousands of those immigrants each year to provide essential labor — usually for $1 a day or less — at the detention centers where they are held when caught by the authorities.
Mi más reciente reportaje sobre la situación de los detenidos en la cárcel de Inmigración de Stewart. Compártelo!!!
Under President Barack Obama, the US has deported almost two million undocumented immigrants, more than any of his predecessors.
Before being kicked out of the US, most of these people will spend time locked up in a detention centre. Some have criminal convictions, but the majority are detained on immigration charges.
The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Georgia has sent a letter to the state’s congressional delegation asking them to investigate two federal immigration detention centers in Georgia.
The ACLU based its request in the March 21 letter on a 2012 report it prepared on immigration detention in Georgia. The report documented the plight of what the ACLU says are thousands of individuals detained in U.S. immigration and customs enforcement detention facilities whose civil rights have been violated while incarcerated at two privately-run, for-profit centers in Irwin and Stewart counties.
In light of the inaction of the federal government and for-profit prison corporations in the face of documented human rights violations, the ACLU of Georgia sent letters to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Rapporteur on the Rights of People Deprived of Liberty and the Rapporteur on the Rights of Migrants, requesting a meeting to discuss immigration detention conditions in Georgia.
Officials announced Monday the North Georgia Detention Center in Gainesville will close before the end of the year. The facility is one of four federal immigration detention centers in the state.
U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement will move detainees to other detention centers in Irwin and Stewart counties. While ICE oversees the centers, they’re operated by a private company, Corrections Corporation of America.
The ACLU of Georgia issued a report in 2012 condemning conditions in the state’s detention centers. Attorney Azadeh Shahshahani says while the group is glad to see the North Georgia Detention Center close, the move doesn’t fully address the ACLU’s concerns.