Immigrant rights advocates held their seventh annual vigil on Friday outside of the Stewart Detention Center in southwest Georgia. The human rights group Georgia Detention Watch is calling for the facility to be shut down due to what it calls inhumane treatment of detainees.
Operated by the Corrections Corporation of America, under contract to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin is the largest immigration detention center in the U.S., currently holding more than 1,500 detainees.
For seven years, Georgia Detention Watch has called for the facility to be shutdown. Spokesman Anton Flores says detainees have not been convicted of any crimes, and are waiting for civil immigration charges to move through the system. But he says the detainees are treated like convicted criminals.
“They are limited to only one hour of recreation a day. Very few receive any visitors, and those who do have no contact visitation. The facility still uses isolation, or solitary confinement. Something that many experts would say that as an extended period of time is equal to torture,” said Flores.
Flores says some immigrants are held for as long as two to three years before their cases are heard. He says Corrections Corporations of America is running the equivalent of a medium security prison, where detainees often wait days for medical treatment, and are given meager portions of food that is often inedible.
“And if we just allow the for-profit prison corporations to benefit from our tax dollars on what is a totally failing detention system, we the taxpayers are losing economically. But more than that, we’re losing morally and spiritually,” said Flores.
Immigrations and Customs Enforcement released a statement saying detainees in ICE custody reside in safe, secure, and humane environments under appropriate conditions of confinement.
According to ICE, an independent contractor found that Stewart complies with national standards in April.
The government agency initiated a long-term detention reform effort in Aug. 2009. Officials also say improvements have been made to the immigration detention system and health care management.