ATLANTA (CN) - The death of 27-year-old who expired after spending 19 days in solitary confinement at a Georgia immigration detention facility has human rights organizations urging Congress to investigate the centers, which the groups say are violating inmate's human and civil rights.
The request for an investigation was made in a letter signed by 70 state and national organizations and delivered to the sixteen members of Georgia's congressional delegation.
Included with the letter was a report released by the Atlanta nonprofit Project South and the Pennsylvania State University Law School’s Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, "Imprisoned Justice: Inside Two Georgia Immigration Detention Centers."
The report revealed what the organizations call deplorable conditions at the Stewart Detention Center and Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia. Jean Carlos Jimenez-Joseph died at the Stewart facility on May 15.
“ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] is reporting the death as a suicide,” a Project South press release says. “Following requests from the mother of Jimenez-Joseph, members of El Refugio, an organization that provides hospitality to loved ones visiting those detained at Stewart, attempted to visit Jean Carlos, but were turned away citing the conditions of his solitary confinement.”
The groups say Jimenez-Joseph was diagnosed with schizophrenia and had attempted suicide before.
“ICE should have known about his mental health history and provided him with appropriate care. But they failed,” the press release says.
But Bryan Cox, spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Southeast Regional Office, said in an email: "The Project South ‘report’ was based almost entirely on anonymous, undated allegations that make it impossible to verify or rebut any of the claims.
"Of the few fact-checkable specifics that document does include, the claim made in the executive summary that the Stewart Detention Center was found to be not compliant with ICE’s detention standards in 2012 is simply false," Cox said. "As that is a demonstrably false claim, the veracity of the document’s remaining allegations should be carefully considered as to what, if any, evidence exists in support of those allegations.”
The letter sent to the congressional delegation claims many people have suffered injustices at Stewart and Irwin by being detained for years without an opportunity to plead their case before a judge.
Detainees have also been denied access to lawyers and were discriminated against based on their gender, religion, and origin, the letter says.
They were treated inhumanely and forced to labor without appropriate compensation, the groups say.
The letter also cites an American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia report published in 2012, "Prisoners of Profit: Immigrants and Detention in Georgia," which accuses Irwin and Stewart of being unconstitutional against detained immigrants with similar allegations.
The report found similar issues where “many detained immigrants were held indefinitely at Stewart and Irwin without justification.”
It found that immigrants couldn’t access legal counsel, faced retaliation from guards, that facilities lacked adequate medical and mental health care, and that that detainees couldn’t see family members, and that they were able to practice their religions.
Cox said “while any fatality in ICE custody is unfortunate and is subject to a full investigation, it is important to note the two fatalities this year were the first in ICE custody in Georgia in more than six years and that deaths in ICE custody, statistically, are exceedingly rare and occur at a fraction of the national average for detained populations.”
The ACLU and 23 nonprofits submitted the report to Congress but the situation remains “largely unabated,” the letter says.
“The immigration courts at Stewart and Irwin are also notorious for setting prohibitively high bonds for detained immigrants, effectively precluding any possibility for release and curtailing their Eighth Amendment right to a reasonable bond,” the letter says.
“Despite the ostensibly non-punitive purpose of immigration detention facilities, both Stewart and Irwin emulate the conditions of a prison in the criminal justice system,” it continues.
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is firmly committed to the safety and welfare of all those in its custody," Cox said. "All ICE facilities are subject to regular inspections, both announced and unannounced, and the Stewart Detention Center and Irwin County Detention Centers have consistently been found to operate in compliance with ICE’s rigorous national detention standards. Any claims to the contrary are simply false.”