December 20, 2013
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.
December 05, 2013
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.
November 20, 2013
On Friday, November 22 at 10 am, Georgia Detention Watch will hold its sixth annual vigil at Corrections Corporation of America-operated Stewart Detention Center. The vigil coincides with the release of Detention Watch Network’s (DWN) report, “Expose and Close, One Year Later: The Absence of Accountability in Immigration Detention,” The report documents the current state of the immigration detention system, afflicted by deaths and suicides, subpar medical and mental healthcare, inedible food, and arbitrary restrictions on visitation and access to legal resources.
While the congressional debate on immigration reform ensues, the mass detention of immigrants across the U.S. has been largely ignored. Located in rural Southwest Georgia, the Stewart Detention Center detains approximately 2,000 immigrant men. Stewart is one of Georgia’s four immigration detention centers and the largest in the U.S.
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.
February 28, 2013
Immigration advocates say detainees have been released from the North Georgia detention center, the Irwin County detention center and the Stewart detention center in south Georgia.
Immigrations and Customs Enforcement announced Monday that hundreds of non-violent detainees and those who don’t pose a flight risk would be granted supervised release across the country. ICE says that’s due to anticipated cuts from sequestration. A Georgia ICE official could only confirm releases from the Stewart facility.
Azadeh Shahshahani with the Georgia ACLU says we can no longer afford immigration prisons for people who are neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community.
“It is about 122 dollars to 164 dollars per detainee per day. Whereas if we relied on more alternatives to detention, that would cost from 30 cents to 14 dollars a day.” she says.
ICE officials confirm those figures, but say the deportation process increases from 45 days if someone is in a detention facility to as long as 2 years if the person is under supervision.
Shahshahani says even the government admits supervision rather than detention is a better way to go.
She says “The Department of Homeland Security has itself told Congress that alternatives to detention are a cost-effective alternative to secure detention of immigrants in removal proceedings. And the Department of Homeland Security’s own alternative to detention program has ensured that 94 percent of people appear for their immigration hearings.”
ICE officials say the supervision can range from requiring immigrants to wear ankle monitors to having them check in with ICE officials once a week.
11th district Georgia Congressman Phil Gingery released this statement regarding the detainee releases:
"Despite President Obama’s attempts to rewrite history, this is his sequester. And now, rather than governing, he is waging a nation-wide public relations campaign warning against his very idea. The bottom line is it’s the spending cuts—not necessarily the sequester itself—that must be implemented. House Republicans have already acted, voting twice to replace it with common-sense reforms that reduce spending while protecting the DoD from being disproportionately impacted. Identifying and eliminating wasteful or duplicative programs and services within DHS and other government agencies would cut spending without hollowing out our military. "
"For instance, according to a recent report, DHS paid for an underwater robot in a Midwest city with no major rivers or lakes nearby, a hog catcher in rural Texas and a fish tank in a small Texas town. The report also found the department has no way of tracking how grant money is spent and has not produced adequate measures to gauge what states and communities actually need. Rather than releasing detainees, government agencies must focus on cutting spending and enacting reforms in wasteful areas such as these."
9th District Congressman Doug Collins also criticized the Obama administration. He released this statement:
“Unfortunately, this type of dangerous behavior has become the status quo from President Obama. It’s disheartening to know the leader of the greatest country in the world would rather play futile political games to advance his tax and spend agenda than protect innocent Americans. These actions are a cowardly and careless; and moreover, they undermine the work the House Judiciary Committee is doing in regards to immigration reform. President Obama should be ashamed of himself for choosing political expediency over the safety of the American people.”
February 19, 2013
Following the USA Today story outlining ICE tactics to boost deportation numbers, the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, the ACLU Foundation of Georgia, and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network released a briefing guide exposing ICE headquarters directives to Georgia and North Carolina field offices to disregard public safety concerns in order to meet self-imposed deportation quota requirements.
Adelina Nicholls, executive director of GLAHR adds, "The documents are damning evidence that the checkpoints that cover our state have nothing to do with public safety and everything to do with a rogue agency and its deportation dragnet. It confirms the claims our community has been making for years about the agency’s practices. Georgia police should be stopped from any more roadside checkpoints until it is clear that they are not being used for ICE's quota."
"These revelations highlighting ICE's actual game plan of aggressively targeting undocumented community members to meet the agency's deportation quotas are deeply disturbing. It is time for the administration to stop such tactics and put an end to unjust deportations," explains Azadeh Shahshahani, National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project Director with the ACLU of Georgia.
Chris Newman, legal director for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, says, "The Obama Administration's decision to enlist police as deportation 'force multipliers' was motivated by a self-imposed deportation quota. These documents show that ICE tactics are expanding the agency's dragnet instead of narrowing its focus. Until President Obama takes concrete steps to reign in rogue agencies within DHS, his ostensible immigration reform goals will be put in jeopardy by actions that belie his words."
The Briefing Guide is available at:
February 12, 2013
Largely missing in the current immigration policy debate is the reality that the legal treatment of immigrants is first and foremost a human rights issue. Altogether lost in that debate is that their treatment also has important implications for the rights of U.S. citizens. What Azadeh Shahshahani, National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project Director with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Foundation of Georgia and President of the National Lawyers Guild, makes absolutely clear in this January 24th interview is that the freedom of U.S. citizens and immigrants are inextricably linked.
Hickman: I want to ask about one case in particular: Mark Daniel Lyttle. The facts in the suit case read like a Kafkaesque nightmare. Despite being a U.S. citizen born in North Carolina, despite having mental and emotional problems, and speaking no Spanish, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deports him to Mexico. He is shoved across the border in a prison jumpsuit with three dollars in his pocket and then spends the next three months either homeless or jailed in Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala. How and why did the ACLU take up his cause?
Shahshahani: We learned about the case through media coverage. The facts were particularly shocking. We are not a direct service provider. Generally we get involved in impact litigation, the kind of case that has effects beyond the immediate case. So, often you will see us challenging unconstitutional legislation, for example our challenge to BH 87, Georgia’s 2011 anti-immigrant law. We want our litigation to result in policy change. Mark Lyttle’s case was emblematic of the lack of due process that plagues the immigration detention and deportation system.
Hickman: What was the outcome of Mark Lyttle’s case?
Shahshahani: He received a monetary settlement. But beyond that, we hope this case sheds some light on this country’s abusive detention and deportation system and helps illustrate the need to move towards a more just and humane immigration system.
Hickman: What explains abuse as heinous as that experienced by Mark Lyttle? Is this what happens when a bureaucracy cannot recognize, admit or correct mistakes?
Shahshahani: I think one issue is the racial profiling inherent in the system. It is a really scary thought for people of color to be caught in the system; the burden is on them to prove their citizenship. The other problem is the lack of access to counsel, to legal representation. Whereas in the criminal justice system in most cases you are entitled to an attorney if you are indigent, in the immigration system there is no right to a court appointed attorney. If you are indigent, you are left to your own devices. There are a small number of organizations that provide legal representation to indigent immigrants in custody but they have very limited resources and can take only a limited number of cases. As an immigrant, you often have to navigate the system by yourself. Immigration laws are very complicated, which adds to the difficulties.
Hickman: Are there other cases comparable to that of Mark Lyttle?
Shahshahani: Yes. There was a case handled by the ACLU of Southern California a few years ago with similar facts. The ACLU of Southern California and the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project are also currently litigating Franco-Gonzalez v. Holder, a class action in California on behalf of hundreds of detained individuals with mental disabilities who face similar problems to those Mark encountered.
I should mention that one problem is the lack of adequate safeguards to ensure that U.S. citizens are not deported. Also there is a lack of enforceable standards for the treatment of people in detention. There are guidelines but they can’t be enforced in court.
Hickman: No standards for treatment in custody?
Shahshahani: It is important for people to realize the numbers of deaths of people in detention centers; many of them could have been easily prevented. Since 2003, at least 24 people have died in immigration detention facilities operated by CCA alone. Incredibly, there have been three deaths in detention here in Georgia in recent years. Two of the deaths were at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin and one was at the North Georgia Detention Center in Gainesville. For example, a 39 year old man from Mexico named Roberto Medina Martinez died in detention at Stewart in March 2009. We brought a challenge on behalf of his widow, asserting that his death was the result of government negligence.
Hickman: What was the negligence?
Shahshahani: The physician at the facility failed to review the medical intake examination. An investigation after the fact showed that she had failed to do that in thousands of cases. Stewart is the largest immigration detention center in the U.S., with more than 1,750 men detained there on a daily basis. What was also concerning was that the facility was without a physician from April 2009, a month after the death of Mr. Martinez, to the summer of 2012. Not even one doctor on staff.
Hickman: Social scientists know that mortality in custody tends to be higher than in…
Shahshahani: Definitely irresponsible of government given the population of Stewart. There needs to be more than one doctor there at any one time.
Hickman: Have news sources missed anything else about this story?
Shahshahani: Yes. Lack of adequate food, hygiene and medical care, and also the isolation of these remote facilities. In 2009, we set out to document the conditions at the Georgia detention centers on a systematic basis. We interviewed 68 immigrants in detention, as well as their attorneys and family members. Our report, Prisoners of Profit: Immigrants and Detention in Georgia, was meant to shine a light on the conditions in Georgia specifically.
We found particularly troubling a work program operated by the Corrections Corporation of America at Stewart and North Georgia paying only one to three dollars a day for work that the corporation would have had to hire regularly paid employees for. So the corporation is making a lot of money. The cruelty of the situation is that the immigrants really need the money in order to supplement their diet, because the food served at the facility is inadequate. They also need to buy phone cards, often at exorbitant prices, to remain in contact with their family members and attorneys.
Corrections Corporation of America claims that the program is voluntary but we spoke with immigrants who stated that it was mandatory. When they went on a work stoppage, they were threatened with being put into ‘the hole,’ into the solitary confinement unit. When we toured the facility as human rights observers, the company refused to allow us to see the solitary confinement unit. It raises a red flag for us immediately.
Hickman: What do you think about public reaction to these problems?
Shahshahani: A lot of individuals are not aware of the scale of the problem. We now have more than 400,000 people in detention annually. On a daily basis it is more than 30,000. We need to start treating detention as the last resort, not constantly throw immigrants in jail-like conditions – including individuals who have been here for years, may have only committed minor violations, and may have U.S. citizens and relatives as spouses or children.
Forty-nine percent of those detained in the U.S. are in private prisons. The Corrections Corporation of America is the largest owner and operator of private prisons in America and its role in passage of Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 70 is documented.
Hickman: So are we seeing an example of moral hazard?
Shahshahani: Yes. You know Arizona’s law was the model for Georgia’s law. The motive is to get as many people in detention as possible to increase corporate profits.
February 12, 2013
November 1, 2012 at Emory Law School
The U.S. spends billions of dollars each year to detain hundreds of thousands of immigrants, few of whom have criminal convictions. A handful of private, for-profit prison companies operate nearly half the beds in this broken system, reaping millions in profits from government contracts that pay about $166 a person each day. Join us for a conversation about immigrant detention in Georgia, home to the biggest private detention center in the U.S. Panelists include:
• Polly Price, Professor of Law, Emory Law School
• Azadeh Shahshahani, director, National Security/Immigrants' Rights Project, ACLU of Georgia
• Amna Shirazi, Attorney, Shirazi Law Group
• Dulce Guerrero, DREAM ACTivist Georgia, National Immigrant Youth Alliance
• Jose Hernandez, formerly detained in Irwin County Detention Center and Stewart Detention Center
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).