ACLU of Georgia and Georgia Detention Watch Reiterate Calls for
Closure of Facility

The ACLU Foundation of Georgia and Georgia Detention Watch express grave concern about news of a hunger strike at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia last week. Discontent has long been brewing over the poor quality of the food, desperately inadequate medical care, and unlivable conditions. A group of detained immigrants decided to organize together in protest. According to multiple reports, instead of addressing the complaints, guards placed hunger strikers and the entire unit on lock-down. The ACLU of Georgia and Georgia Detention Watch call for transparency from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and reiterate their previous calls for closure of this corporate-run facility.

On or around June 12, 2014, reportedly hundreds of detained immigrants participated in a hunger strike – instead of eating their food, they threw it away. It has been confirmed by several detained men that immigrants in Unit 6 (or Pod 6) were involved in the hunger strike. Detained immigrants, family members, and immigration attorneys have reported several immediate reasons for the strike. The same water used to boil eggs was reportedly being used to make coffee and maggots were found in the food. Immigrants working in the kitchen have stated that food preparation facilities were unsanitary and had a roach infestation. Two or three-day-old food was often served, even though it had gone bad.

Multiple reports from detained immigrants and immigration attorneys state that there was a facility-wide, 24-hour lockdown in response, and participating units were shut down even longer. Other reports indicate the use of pepper spray.

“This is symptomatic of the complete disregard for the basic human rights of detained immigrants at Stewart,” said Azadeh Shahshahani, National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project Director with the ACLU of Georgia. “It is high time for this facility, named as one of the worst in the country, to be shut down.”

In addition to the inedible food, there have been several other reported complaints and catalysts for the strike. Based on statements from the wife of a detained man as well as information obtained by a media source, units go several days without hot water in the shower. In one of the units, only three out of 10 showers were working for a period of time. The temperature is also an issue – the facility reportedly shuts down the air conditioning from 10 p.m. to about 6 a.m. to cut costs. One detained immigrant said that because of this, they are forced to sleep in sweltering temperatures. Another commonly reported problem is that despite a majority of the population being unable to speak English proficiently, there is not a full-time interpreter at the facility. This has caused problems with communicating needs, particularly during medical emergencies.

There are significant reported inadequacies in medical care and attention. One detained immigrant explained that he has nerve damage from an auto accident that occurred prior to his detention. He had previously been receiving prescription medication, but since being detained at Stewart, he has only been allowed Ibuprofen.

Ismael, an immigrant formerly detained at Stewart, spoke about his harrowing experience attempting to obtain emergency medical care. He suffers from high blood pressure, which only become worse upon being detained. On March 9, 2014, he passed out in his unit, laid there for 15 to 20 minutes before a nurse came to see him, and then spent another 45 minutes in an ambulance to be transported to a hospital almost 40 miles away. He was diagnosed as having had a stroke. After being released three days later, he was not given any further treatment, follow-up, or even a lower bunk, as requested. He suffered another stroke a month later that has left him with numbness in the head and extremities as well as headaches. According to Ismael, the only treatment prescribed to him was pills for the headache. After suffering through his detention at Stewart, Ismael has decided to sign his deportation papers and leave behind his life in the U.S.

Alcides also shared his story. He became a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. in 1996. He is a veteran, having fought and been injured in the Iraq war. He is wheelchair-bound and suffers from PTSD. Every time that ICE has transported Alcides, officers have failed to provide an accessible vehicle, and he has been forcibly removed from his wheelchair. On one occasion, he was made to stand, causing him severe pain, and he has since lost feeling in his legs altogether. He is unable to shower by himself and has gone at least three and a half weeks without showering due to lack of assistance. After the recent use of pepper spray at the facility, he suffered seizures and was not provided with the correct medication upon return to the facility from the hospital. He refuses to eat until provided the right medication.

This is in line with the findings of the ACLU of Georgia May 2012 Report, “Prisoners of Profit: Immigrants and Detention in Georgia.” After a three-year investigation based on interviews with 68 immigrants in detention in Georgia facilities, family members, immigration attorneys, and review of documents obtained from the government, the report concluded that Stewart has consistently failed to provide basic medical care, hygienic conditions, or edible and adequate food for those in detention. The facility was understaffed – without a physician for more than three years, with only seven nurses for the 1,752 detained men. According to detained immigrants, treatment was often refused, unreasonably delayed, or mishandled.

Detained men who complained or spoke up suffered retaliation, they told the ACLU of Georgia. A commonly utilized tactic was punishing immigrants by placing them in solitary.

“It does not seem as though anything has changed at Stewart despite years of advocacy by detained immigrants, their family members, and human rights organizations” said Adelina Nicholls, Executive Director of the Georgia Latino Alliance of Human Rights. “If anything, conditions have worsened.”

Stewart has been named by the Detention Watch Network and other national organizations as one of the ten worst facilities in the country.

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