The cruel but usual conditions inside two Georgia immigration detention centers

Paul is a Nigerian asylum-seeker who was until recently detained at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia (“Paul” is a pseudonym to protect his safety). 

Paul is thirty-six-years-old and was healthy before being taken into Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody. During the summer of 2016, Paul had experienced tooth pain and ultimately was brought to the dentist on August 10. 

At the dentist’s office, he requested to use the restroom. An ICE officer escorted him to the bathroom, tied his hands and feet to the toilet, and wrapped a chain tightly around his waist.

While chained to the toilet, Paul explained to the officer that the chain was too tight for him to urinate because it was pushing into his bladder. 

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In the 1990s, Paul had undergone bladder surgery. He recovered from the surgery and no longer experienced any bladder related issues, but the doctor had cautioned him not to cause any additional injury to his bladder. 

 

Paul pleaded with the officer to loosen the chain around his body because it was physically impossible for him to relieve himself and it was causing him a great deal of pain. The officer refused to loosen the chain and insisted that the restraints were necessary.

Paul is only one of scores of detained immigrants we interviewed over a one-year period for a report just published: Imprisoned Justice: Inside Two Georgia Immigrant Detention Centers

The report focuses on the conditions of two detention centers in the state of Georgia: The Stewart Detention Center and the Irwin County Detention Center

This report was produced by Project South, an Atlanta based social justice organization, and Penn State Law’s Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic in collaboration with several other organizations.

The report is an update to one created in 2012 titled Prisoners of Profit which focused on detention facilities based in Georgia. Stewart and Irwin were also previously identified in national reports as amongst the worst in the country

As illustrated by Paul’s account, life at these facilities for detained immigrants is still a living nightmare.

Since the summer day in the bathroom, Paul consistently experienced intense pain and felt weak throughout his body. He also had urine leaking through the twenty-year-old surgery scar. He continuously requested medical attention but did not receive timely care. 

When he was finally allowed to see doctors outside of the facility, they said that he needed surgery. The facility medical staff was fully aware of this; they attempted a surgery in October at a regional hospital, but it was unsuccessful and the surgeon stated he must be brought to a specialist for surgery.

The medical staff dragged their feet for months, finally securing a specialist and scheduling the surgery for late March 2017. After months of advocacy and securing of pro bono legal representation, Paul was finally released on parole, immediately before surgery was scheduled to be performed. 

Paul was then able to have surgery, but left with the expense. He remains with a drainage tube in his bladder, and requires a second more involved surgery this summer.

As detailed in the report, the conditions in these detention facilities are deplorable and include: threats of force-feeding for participation in hunger strikes, sexual abuse, lack of clean drinking water, lack of adequate access to legal materials or attorneys, and labor for just $1 per day.

Additionally, detained immigrants are frequently served rotten and spoiled food with occasional foreign particles inside. The food served is not in sufficient quantities. 

Further, detained immigrants at both facilities lack adequate medical care and mental health services are minimal. Some detained immigrants also complained of not receiving dietary accommodations for religious beliefs and practices or health concerns.

The use of solitary is far too rampant. Several detained immigrants reported being put in segregation for expressing suicidal thoughts or as retaliation for complaining about detention conditions.

A report released by ICE just this week reports that a young man at Stewart Detention Center named Jean Jimenez-Joseph appears to have killed himself.

As told by one immigrant we interviewed at Stewart: “I was put in segregation for four days because I was on a hunger strike. There were about twenty other Somali detainees in segregation for the hunger strike. In segregation, I could not see outside and did not know if it was day or night. I could see the other detainees through a small window. The guards will bring the phone through the window for a detainee to use. The bathroom is located outside of the cell. Detainees must request an officer to take them to the bathroom. They are handcuffed and brought to the bathroom.” 

 As Imprisoned Injustice shows, the conditions at Stewart and Irwin are inhumane and fail to comply with basic due process or the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) own standards on how individuals should be treated. 

The remote location of these facilities further keeps detained immigrants away from their families and access to legal counsel. The primary recommendation of the report is to shut down Stewart and Irwin Detention Centers.

 Stewart and Irwin are two of more than 200 detention facilities but in many ways exemplify the deepest flaws with the U.S. immigration detention system which in October 2016, held more than 40,000

Most detained immigrants are forced to navigate their cases without legal representation or enforceable standards.

The national context of immigration detention since the election of Donald J. Trump reveals an even darker future. On the heels of two executive orders signed by the president on January 25 on immigration enforcement, DHS Secretary John F. Kelly issued implementing memoranda.

These policies vastly expand the administration’s enforcement priorities and also send the message that anyone in violation of immigration laws will be subject to arrest, detention, and deportation.

Also worrisome are recent reports about the administration’s plan to erode the already deficient detention standards and further expand the immigration detention industry.

In fact, DHS has already identified 27 potential locations that could further expand the number of available beds by 33,000. These would be on top of the 34,000 beds that Congress has mandated that ICE maintain through the immigration detention quota.

Stewart and Irwin need to be shut down.

But as long as the immigration detention quota and Trump’s mass deportation plans remain in place, immigrants will continue to be unnecessarily detained in deplorable conditions.

Azadeh Shahshahani is legal and advocacy Director with Project South, which is focused on fighting structural racism and reducing poverty in the American south, and a past president of the National Lawyers Guild. Shoba Sivaprasad Wadhia is director of the Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Penn State Law.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.