More than two dozen detainees at a notorious immigration detention center in Georgia staged a hunger strike and protest last week over inedible food, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) reported. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) called the protest at Stewart Detention Center a “riot” that required that detainees be “segregated for disciplinary purposes,” according to the AJC.
The ACLU and Georgia Detention Watch filed a complaint raising alarm about a hunger strike that detainees began on or around June 12, during which hundreds of detainees threw their food away. Detainees have complained that their food is often filled with maggots, or that the same water used to boil eggs is reused to brew coffee. Detainees who work in food preparation have also complained of a roach infestation in the facility’s kitchen. Detainees were frequently served rotten food.
McRae Correctional and D. Ray James Correctional facilities in McRae and Folkston, Georgia are two of the 13 little-known CAR (Criminal Alien Requirement) prisons for immigrants in the United States. For the new report Warehoused and Forgotten: Immigrants Trapped in Our Shadow Private Prison Industry, the ACLU and the ACLU of Texas have investigated CAR prisons in Texas run by Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group, the same private prison companies that operate McRae and D. Ray James. The report reveals inhumane conditions and egregious mistreatment of immigrants in prisons that enrich the for-profit prison industry at tremendous costs to taxpayers.
“The report findings are consistent with what we have documented in Georgia. CCA at McRae and the GEO Group at D. Ray James have a record of violations of constitutional and Bureau of Prisons standards governing the medical treatment of prisoners,” said Azadeh Shahshahani, National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project Director of the ACLU Foundation of Georgia.
In August 2011, the ACLU of Georgia submitted comments to the Bureau of Prisons asking that the agency not renew its contract for operation of McRae. The ACLU of Georgia has also submitted a Freedom of Information Request to the Bureau of Prisons regarding treatment of prisoners at D. Ray James. The comments and the FOIA request are available upon request.
The culmination of a four-year investigation, the ACLU report on facilities in Texas shows how the federal Bureau of Prisons incentivizes private prison companies to keep CAR prisons overcrowded and understaffed. The companies provide scant medical care that is often administered incorrectly, if delivered at all.
As Carl Takei, Staff Attorney at the ACLU’s National Prison Project, explained, “The shameful conditions inside CAR prisons come from the government’s decision to allow the suffering inside these for-profit prisons. For instance, 10% of the bed space in CAR prisons is reserved for extreme isolation—nearly double the rate in normal federal prisons. I spoke to prisoners who spent weeks in isolation cells after being sent there upon intake—simply arriving at prison was the reason why they were locked in a cell and fed through a slot for 23 hours a day.”
CAR prisons hold non-citizens who have been convicted of crimes in the U.S., mostly for immigration offenses (such as unlawfully reentering the country).
Read the report: www.aclu.org/CARabuse.
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.
The ACLU of Georgia has been joined by dozens of other local and national groups in seeking a Congressional investigation of two of the worst immigration detention facilities in the country, Stewart and the Irwin County Detention Center. This request comes in the face of inaction of ICE to recommendations in our May 2012 report, “Prisoners of Profit: Immigrants and Detention in Georgia.” You can find the letter to the Georgia Congressional delegation here.
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.”
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.
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.
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