Commentary Immigration

Atlanta Ended Its ICE Contract. But a Nearby Facility Quietly Started Jailing Immigrants.

Azadeh Shahshahani & Priyanka Bhatt

About 25 miles from Atlanta's outskirts, a Clayton County detention center is working with a private prison corporation with an abysmal history of human rights violations.

Soon after the City of Atlanta decided to end its collusion with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and stop allowing the city jail to be used as an immigration detention center, we learned that ICE entered into a new arrangement for detention in Georgia.

After a years-long grassroots campaign documenting ICE’s human rights violations in the jail, Atlanta finally ended the contract in September, realizing that it could not call itself a “welcoming city” while profiting from immigrants’ pain. As we showed in our report “Inside Atlanta’s Immigrant Cages,” scores of immigrants detained at the Atlanta City Detention Center experienced or observed human rights violations, including solitary confinement for arbitrary reasons; grossly inadequate medical and mental health care; an uncompensated labor program; intimidation and threats by the guards; extremely poor-quality food; and sexual assault.

“Atlanta will no longer be complicit in a policy that intentionally inflicts misery on a vulnerable population without giving any thought to the horrific fallout,” Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said before signing the executive order ending the city’s dealings with ICE. “As the birthplace of the civil rights movement, we are called to be better than this.”

ICE, however, turned elsewhere to continue feeding the detention machine. In August, the agency started detaining immigrants at the Robert A. Deyton Detention Facility in Lovejoy; we learned about this in October, not through an announcement by ICE, but by happenstance. The facility is owned by Clayton County, roughly 25 minutes away from the Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The private prison corporation GEO Group leases the facility from Clayton and runs it through a contract with the U.S. Department of Justice.

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The GEO Group’s detention centers have a well-documented track record of human rights violations, including lack of medical and mental health care; arbitrary solitary confinement; denial of basic hygiene products; and moldy and inedible food. Due to these horrid conditions, death, suicide, and attempted suicide are all too common in GEO-run facilities such as the Adelanto Detention Facility in California, LaSalle Detention Facility in Louisiana, Denver Contract Detention Facility, and South Texas Detention Complex.

The Robert A. Deyton Detention Center is no different, according to the detained immigrants we have spoken to as part of our work with the social-justice organization Project South. They tell us that the food is inedible, they are yelled at and cursed at by the officers, and they are put on lockdown for many hours straight.

In addition, there is inadequate medical, dental, and mental health care. One detained immigrant told us that they have to wait a minimum of a week before being able to go to the medical unit and that there is no daily sick-call procedure like there is at other facilities. Another man said he was denied his medication the entire time he was at the facility. This same man, who was physically impaired, told us that the facility was ill equipped to provide him sufficient care. He requested a cane, but the one given to him did not have rubber soles, causing him to slip and injure himself even more. Another detained immigrant told us that he had horrible tooth pain and cavities but was told he could not get treatment until he was in ICE custody for at least a year.

Many Muslim immigrants detained at the facility face challenges practicing their faith. For example, they are denied access to halal food and are not allowed to pray together on Fridays as encouraged by their faith. When asking for religious accommodation, a Muslim immigrant was told by the detention center’s chaplain: “You need proof that you are Muslim” in order to receive halal food. Despite his attempts to “prove” his faith to the chaplain, he has yet to receive halal food.

In addition, grievances that detained immigrants file are ignored by the officers. One man told us that he could see the grievance box was filled to the top with complaints, but that no one has picked them up since he arrived at the detention center more than two weeks ago.

Detained immigrants are further isolated at the Deyton facility due to its restrictive visitation policy. Immigrants have to mail a form to their potential visitor, wait to receive the form back, and thenget it approved by an officer. This process could take up to two or three weeks. By the time the visitor is approved, the person detained may already be deported or released.

This treatment is atrocious and inexcusable. There is no time to waste.

Other localities have ended their contracts with ICE and private prison companies in the wake of such violations. The Clayton County Commissioners must stop letting the GEO Group use the facility in light of the prison corporation’s horrific track record and its abominable treatment towards immigrants detained at the facility.

And members of Congress must cut funding for ICE, an agency that thrives off of a culture of secrecy and abuse. The evidence is indisputable; ICE must be abolished.

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