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Thursday, November 15, 2012 - 3:26pm

Call To Close Immigration Detention Centers

Detention Watch Network, a coalition of groups opposed to current immigration detention policies, is calling on President Obama to close 10 centers across the country. Two of what the Network calls the “worst of the worst” are in Georgia.

The group says over the last 15 years, the number of immigrants locked up each year in the nation has grown from 70 thousand to about 400 thousand.

Andrea Black, executive director of Detention Watch Network, says the ten detention centers they are targeting are overcrowded, filthy, and have inadequate food and medical care.

She says “Conditions at these facilities have gotten so bad the only option is to begin shutting them down. We are therefore calling on the Administration to immediately terminate contracts with these facilities.”

In north Georgia, the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin is the largest immigrant detention facility in the country. Pedro Guzman was released from Stewart in May of 2011 after being detained for 18 months.

“The real hard core criminals are getting better privileges than us detainees, who are just there for low infraction violations. And they’re treating us like we’re high risk. They’re treating us like we’re animals in cages.”he says.

Azadeh Shahshahani with the ACLU Foundation of Georgia, says detainees at Stewart report it can be days or even weeks for a medical request to be answered.

“Currently there is only one doctor and seven nurses on staff at the 1752 bed facility.”she says.

South Georgia’s Irwin County jail is the other Georgia facility on the group’s list. Shahshahani says detainees there staged a hunger strike in January because conditions there were so bad.

She says despite the hunger strike, conditions have not improved. “There continue to be numerous reports of poor food and hygiene, extreme temperatures, inadequate access to outdoor recreation and costly phone charges. Yet individuals fear retaliation from facilities staff if they complain.”

The group recommends placing low-risk detainees on parole instead of locking them up, or keeping track of them with ankle monitoring bracelets.

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement says the allegations are based primarily on anonymous complaints. Officials have offered to meet with the report’s authors.

ICE released a statement Thursday saying " ICE stands behind the significant work we've done reforming the detention system by increasing federal oversight, improving conditions of confinement and prioritizing the health and safety of the individuals in our custody."

Officials say ICE has established the Office of the Public Advocate to help resolve complaints, and created a toll-free hotline for community or individual concerns.

A vigil and march will be held on Friday, November 16th in Lumpkin calling for the closure of the Stewart Detention Center. Organizers expect hundreds of people will march from the Lumpkin town square to the Stewart Center.

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