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Powerful Immigrant Rights Rally at Stewart Detention Center Calls Attention to Deadly Human Rights Abuses
Report back from Stewart Detention Center Protest: Social Justice Activists Processed from Lumpkin Square to Remote Immigrant Prison to Call Attention to Deadly Human Rights Abuses
Lumpkin, GA -- Social justice and immigrant rights activists processed from Lumpkin Town Square to the Stewart Detention Center this Friday morning to call attention to the abuses perpetrated at this commercial prison which in the last year have killed one prisoner and injured many. Prisoners continue participating in hunger strikes demanding better conditions, and local human rights organization Georgia Detention Watch organizes in solidarity with their calls for justice.
protest in a powerful and emotional vigil, survivors of detention centers, family members of those imprisoned and human rights activists gathered to listen to those families torn apart by raids and forced detention, including the family of one detainee whose three children went in to visit him following the vigil.
Many immigrants to the United States are victims of U.S.-sponsored military training and atrocities in Latin America. “In our fight to close the SOA, we continue to work towards a world that is free of suffering and violence” said SOA Watch organizer Jake Dacks, one of the speakers at the prison vigil.
Dacks continued, “We recognize the SOA as a part of the same racist system of violence and domination that operates US immigration policy. We ally ourselves with victims and survivors of state violence and their families in our effort to create a better world.”
The Stewart Detention Center, a temporary detention center for folks who are locked up while awaiting immigration status or deportation. ICE works with the for-profit Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) to operate this remote prison.
One of the participants spoke about her father, who had been deported after living in the United States for more than 20 years, most of her life. "The man that I used to have dinner with, and just shared time with, is now the man I can only speak on the phone with," she said.
Activists brought some puppets down to Friday's rally from the warehouse in Columbus, GA, where they are being built for the annual Vigil to Close the School of the Americas this Saturday and Sunday.
The action at the Stewart prison follows two previous vigils, several humanitarian visitations, and release of a report by Georgia Detention Watch which documented violations of immigration detention standards at the Stewart Detention Center. More than 100 immigrants have died in ICE custody in the last six years alone.
"Roberto Martinez Medina and I would be the same age if he were still alive today," reflected Anton Flores-Maisonet of Alterna and Georgia Detention Watch on the passing of a 39-year-old immigrant from Mexico detained at Stewart, who died of a heart infection on March 11, 2009. To date, many questions about the circumstances surrounding his death remain unanswered. "This death at CCA's Stewart Detention Center and the allegations that the center fails to provide basic medical care to detainees should be of great concern to the County whose name it bears," Flores-Maisonet observed.
Among the speakers at Friday's vigil was Bryan Holcomb, a former high-level manager from CCA. He gave an exposé on the depth of irregularities at CCA-run detention centers and prisons, including high sexual-assault rates.
Those gathered marched in a solemn funeral procession for almost two miles to the Stewart Detention Center. The march included a coffin, carried by shrouded pallbearers, memorializing Roberto Martinez Medina.
The entrance to the Stewart prison was blocked by three large buses, preventing anyone from seeing or entering the facility and largely preventing any of those detained from seeing the protest outside. Protesters challenged this by waving the large puppet and directing some of their songs and speeches to the prisoners in hopes that they could be heard.
At the close of the vigil a few hours later, people walked over to the gates, placing signs solemnly down and left in silence, many continuing on to Columbus, GA, where they will join the mass mobilization to shut down the School of the Americas this weekend.
Azadeh Shahshahani, ACLU of Georgia National Security/Immigrants' Rights Project Director and Chair of Georgia Detention Watch, sees the vigil and funeral procession as the local reflection of a time in which “significant concerns are being raised nationally about the inhumane treatment of immigrants at detention centers and the unnecessary detention of many immigrants in the first place, often for prolonged periods and without being afforded basic due process.”
Herbert Abdul, a former immigrant detainee, also spoke at the rally. Mr. Abdul was detained for months at the Atlanta City Detention Center and the Etowah County Detention Center.
Other speakers at the rally included: Silky Shah, Organizing and Outreach Coordinator with the Detention Watch Network; Samuel Brooke, Attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center Immigrant Justice Project; as well as Flores and Shahshahani.
Located in rural Southwest Georgia, the Stewart Detention Center detains over 1,750 men, primarily from Latin America. Stewart is run by the Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America, the country's largest private prison corporation.
An April 2009 report by Georgia Detention Watch on conditions at Stewart documented violations of ICE’s own detention standards at the facility. The report charged that food and medicine are withheld as punishment and that solitary confinement is routinely imposed without a disciplinary hearing.
The organizations sponsoring Friday's vigil included:
American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia
American Friends Service Committee
Center for Constitutional Rights
Coalicion de Lideres Latinos-CLILA
Detention Watch Network
Georgia Detention Watch
Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights
International Action Center
Nipponzan Myohoji Atlanta Dojo
Rights Working Group
School of the Americas Watch
Southern Poverty Law Center Immigrant Justice Project
Texans United for Families