February 27, 2013
Azadeh Shahshahani, 34
Human Rights Lawyer, Georgia
Azadeh Shahshahani has been a prominent human rights advocate in the South for eight years. Currently the director of national security and immigrant rights at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Georgia chapter, Shahshahani, 34, remains at the forefront of several campaigns to help those who often do not have a voice within the state’s and nation’s legal framework.
Shahshahani was among those who led the fight against HB 87, a Georgia law that closely mirrors the Arizona immigration law, enabling local law enforcement to check the immigration status of anyone believed to have committed even a minor infraction. The law passed in 2011 but her work led to a federal court blocking other parts of the law, including a provision that makes it a crime for anyone to transport or harbor an undocumented immigrant. In the last year, Shahshahani has run over 15 forums in rural Georgia, teaching immigrants about their rights if they get stopped by police.- See more >>
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.
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.
August 30, 2012
By blocking Georgia’s attempts to criminalize acts of hospitality, faith, and conscience, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals delivered a decision that affects the daily lives of many people in Georgia.
One of these is Everitt Howe, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, a caseworker for his church’s community service program. Howe regularly accompanies and drives families and individuals, including those who are undocumented, to hospital visits or other appointments. He fears that could be found criminally liable. Because of people like Howe, we are pleased the court blocked this fundamentally un-American provision.
The ruling was issued pursuant to a lawsuit brought by the ACLU and other organizations charging that the extreme law endangers public safety, invites racial profiling of people of color and others who look or sound “foreign,” and interferes with federal law. The court’s ruling made it clear that the state cannot put into effect policies that could interfere with the federal government’s regulation of immigration. The court struck down the provision criminalizing daily interactions with undocumented individuals, which would have made people vulnerable to arrest and detention for acts of kindness.
Another part of the law before the court was the “show-me-your-papers” provision. The court reiterated there are limits on such laws under the Supreme Court’s decision in the Arizona case. It left the door open to future challenges.
HB 87 promotes racial profiling by giving police officers discretion to determine what information is “sufficient” to prove a person’s identity and choose who to subject to an investigation. This will lead to the profiling of anyone who looks or sounds “foreign.” The statute undermines fundamental American values of fairness and equal protection.
Law enforcement leaders and police chiefs around the country have cautioned against putting local police in the position of enforcing federal immigration laws for fear it will alienate the communities endanger the public. Many immigrants will not come forward with crime information for fear they will be detained and investigated. As ACLU of Georgia investigations show, immigrant communities in Cobb and Gwinnett already fear the police. They are reluctant to report crime because of these counties’ involvement in immigration enforcement. This has led to an atmosphere of terror and isolation for immigrants and less-safe communities.
Take the 2009 case of a woman who called 911 to stop her partner from assaulting her. Cobb County officers relied on the abuser’s account of what happened, as she spoke little English. Her abuser’s side of the story was far from honest. She was separated from her infant daughter, spent five days in jail and was placed in deportation.
The ACLU and our partner organizations will forge ahead until unconstitutional provisions of HB 87 are struck down – or until this racial profiling law is repealed in its entirety.
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.