Portraits of Atlanta Immigrants

July 09, 2014

Creative Loafing interviews ACLU of Georgia's Azadeh Shahshahani about her immigrant experience

9 men and women share their voices, their stories

Thomas Wheatley, Creative Loafing

Forty-four years ago, your chances of hearing a foreign accent in Georgia were slim. At the time, less than 1 percent of the state's population had been born abroad. But in the decades since, Georgia, once shackled by segregation, has become one of the more diverse states in the union. In 2012, according to the Pew Research Center, nearly 10 percent of the state's population was born in another country.

Much of that growth has been centered in metro Atlanta. Last year, the Atlanta Regional Commission estimated that approximately 14 percent of the 20-county region's population was foreign-born. Among the 20 other most populous metros across the country, the metro Atlanta region ranked 14th. But when researchers measure its change in growth over the 2000s, the region lays claim to the second-fastest growing foreign-born population, lagging only Baltimore. In some counties, such as Clayton, foreign-born men, women, and children fueled the majority of the population growth during the booming 2000s.

Using Jailed Migrants as a Pool of Cheap Labor

May 28, 2014

May 24, 2014
New York Times

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.


May 28, 2014

A Cultural Celebration With Artists for Migrant Justice

On Friday May 30th, Grammy winning & nominated musicians, visual artists, performers, and community members will host the 5th UndocuNation. This traveling arts and music festival and workshop series uplifts migrant stories and speaks out against unjust immigration laws that separate families and discriminate against LGBTQ communities and people of color.

Rights and Benefits Eligibility Chart for Individuals with Various Immigration Status

September 26, 2013

The ACLU of Georgia has released a chart on eligibility of individuals with various immigration status for rights and benefits in Georgia. The chart is available in both English and Spanish and can be accessed here.

Is There a Pathway to Citizenship? Surveying the Current Status of Federal and State Immigration Reform

September 11, 2013

Presented by The Georgia Lawyer Chapter of the American Constitution Society

Tuesday, September 17, 2013
6:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP
303 Peachtree Street , 53th Floor
Atlanta, GA

September 17 is Constitutiton Day. On this illustrious occasion, please join the ACS Georgia Lawyer Chapter for a panel discussion on the current state of the federal and state immigration reform, including an assessment of the prospects for a comprehensive bill in the United States Congress, a review of the various forces that are supporting and opposing that effort, and a discussion on the interplay between state and federal immigration reform efforts in light of the Supreme Court's recent decision in Arizona v. United States.


July 20, 2013

Coalition Announces Next Steps to Reduce Harm from What Remains of State’s Anti-Immigrant HB 87

Following the Federal District Court’s order today in Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, et al. v. Deal, et al., a coalition of civil rights groups announced the next steps in their effort to dismantle the state’s anti-immigrant law, HB 87. Significant parts of the law have been blocked by the courtsbut one provision remains that allows police officers to ask the federal government to verify the immigration status of individuals who are lawfully detained on state-law grounds. It does not allow for stops, arrests or even extending detention just for immigration verification. Today’s order holds that challenges to that provision’s implementation must be brought in other suits, rather than the original case that the coalition filed before HB 87’s effective date in 2011.

Georgia Public Broadcasting interviews ACLU of Georgia's Azadeh Shahshahani about release of some immigrants from detention in recent days

February 28, 2013

Some Georgia Detainees Released

By Ellen Reinhardt

Georgia Public Broadcasting

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.”

ACLU of Georgia's Azadeh Shahshahani is featured in this article about Asian-Americans in Southern politics

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 >>

FOIA Docs Released to USA Today Reveal Deportation Quota Driving Immigration Policy

February 19, 2013

FOIA Docs Released to USA Today Reveal Deportation Quota Driving Immigration Policy

Advocates Release Briefing Guide Exposing Decision to Enlist Local Police About Meeting Numbers Not About Safety

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:


The Reality of Life Inside Immigration Detention

November 21, 2012

By Azadeh N. Shahshahani, ACLU Foundation of Georgia at 5:18pm
In the last 15 years, we've witnessed a dramatic expansion in the jailing of immigrants, from about 70,000 people detained annually to about 400,000. In the mid-1990’s, during the height of an anti-immigrant backlash, Congress passed a series of harsh measures that led to a vast increase in unnecessary detention. This trend has been exacerbated by the private prison industry and county jails looking to exploit immigrant detention for profit.

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.