Immigration: ACLU alleges rights violations at detention centers

May 23, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
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By Richard Fausset ,  May 16, 2012, 4:58 p.m.

ATLANTA — Suspected illegal immigrants
in Georgia are suffering from a “systemic violation … of civil and human
rights” during their confinement in “substandard” federal immigration detention
facilities, including Stewart Detention Center, the largest of its kind in the
nation, according to a new report by the state’s chapter of the American
Civil Liberties Union
.
The 182-page report, released Wednesday, immediately added fuel to
the hot-burning debate over illegal immigration in this Deep South state, where
the presence of an estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants — the seventh-largest
population in the nation — has transformed large swaths of both cities and
countryside.
D.A. King, a prominent supporter of stricter illegal immigration
policies here, dismissed the document as a “pseudo-report” that relied too
heavily on the testimony of detainees, who, by the nature of their
circumstances, would tend to be in a complaining mood.
King, president of the activist group the Dustin Inman Society,
added in an interview that the ACLU “is leading the anti-enforcement charge here
in Georgia…. Their goal here is to stop any enforcement of U.S. immigration
law.”
Officials from U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and an
attorney for Detention Management LLC, the owner of the Irwin Center, did not
respond to queries about the investigation.
But Steve Owen, a spokesman
for the Corrections
Corp. of America
, which operates Stewart and the North Georgia Detention
Center, called the report an “unfortunate example of the lack of seriousness
with which ACLU lawyers approach the very real and practical challenges our
nation faces in safely, humanely and cost effectively housing our immigrant
detainee population.”
Owen said in an interview that the ACLU ignored or underplayed CCA
responses to some of the criticisms of its facility. Those responses argued that
the facilities featured clean cells, with a “robust and effective” grievance
process at Stewart. The company also argued that some of the allegations were
unsubstantiated or incorrect.
For Anton Flores-Maisonet, co-founder of Alterna, a Georgia-based
immigrant rights ministry, the report bolstered his long-standing contention
that suspected illegal immigrants in federal detention centers were being
treated like criminals, or worse, when in fact many of them were guilty of
violating only civil immigration statutes.
“I think every American, regardless of how knowledgeable they are
about the complexities of our broken immigration system, should be able to agree
to some codified, basic human rights minimums as to what we do with individuals
we’ve chosen to detain for immigration purposes,” he told the Los Angeles
Times.
The report, “Prisoners of Profit,” was based on documents obtained
through the Freedom of Information Act, as well as tours and interviews at
Georgia’s four federal immigration facilities.
Three of those facilities, including the 1,750-bed Stewart
Detention Center, are run by private corporations. The report challenges the
wisdom of the private model, alleging the “systemic violation of immigrant
detainees’ civil and human rights while detained in substandard prison-like
conditions ill suited for civil detainees.”
The report highlights a number of instances in which detainees
were allegedly coerced by staffers at the centers into signing “Stipulated
Orders of Removal,” which allow them to be deported without a court hearing.
In some cases, guards at the jails allegedly screamed at and
threatened immigrants who would not sign the orders. In two cases, a officer
allegedly physically forced immigrants to sign.
The report also alleges that detainees are not given information
about pro bono legal services, denied adequate medical care, and subject to
regulations that could violate attorney-client confidentiality rights.
Hygiene was also a concern: At the privately run Irwin County
Detention Center, female detainees are provided with used underwear and, in at
least one case, a woman was given “soiled” underwear, causing her to suffer from
an infection that left her legs and genitals scarred, according to the
report.
Last year, Georgia passed a tough illegal immigration crackdown
law, but parts of it are on hold until the U.S. Supreme Court renders a decision
on a similar law passed in Arizona in 2010.

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