View the full ACLU report.
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 North Georgia Detention Center in Gainesville, 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 the 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.
The North Georgia Detention Center is a 502-bed facility at 622 Main St. that has been under the management of Corrections Corp. of America since 2009.
D.A. King, a prominent supporter of stricter illegal immigration policies, 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 CCA, which also operates the Stewart Detention Center in the city of Lumpkin, 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.
According to the report, the majority of immigrant detainees interviewed were detained after being stopped for traffic violations in Georgia. Of those interviewed at the North Georgia facility, four were detained through traffic stops in Hall County, one at a traffic stop in DeKalb County, and one at a traffic stop in South Carolina.
One female detainee was arrested by Gainesville Police after calling in a domestic violence complaint against her husband.
In 2010, 755 illegal immigrants in Hall County were put into deportation proceedings as part of 287(g), a program that allows local officers to begin those proceedings for any arrestee who is brought to the county jail and determined to be in the country illegally.
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, an 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.
The Office of Detention and Removal Operations has conducted annual reviews of the North Georgia Detention Center, rating its compliance with set standards as “acceptable” in 2008 and 2009.
The ACLU, however, found due process violations, inadequate living conditions that included not providing appropriate hygiene items to female detainees, inadequate medical and mental care and abuse of power by guards.
The ACLU reported that detainees had visitation time limited to 30 minutes to one hour each weekend, which was restrictive especially to those with family coming from other states. They also found that the center was not providing recreation opportunities pursuant with CCA’s own guidelines and many of those interviewed complained about small portions of food.
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.