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October 18, 2008 -- Atlanta Progressive News (GA)

Activists Protest Immigrant Prisons in Georgia

By Alice Gordon


(APN) MARIETTA -- On October 14, 2008, about 20 protesters representing many humanitarian organizations gathered to protest a jail in Cobb County, Georgia, which houses illegal immigrants who have been arrested under Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1996.

This provision allows local police to do immigration law enforcement if they are trained and work under the supervision of customs enforcement agents.

Some local police detain illegal immigrants they find in the course of their regular duties.

The Georgia counties implementing Section 287(g) include Whitfield, Hall, and Cobb Counties. Hall County has turned over 564 people, and Cobb County has turned over at least 3000, according to the website for Americans for Legal Immigrations.

Gwinnett County is currently considering also implementing Section 287(g).

Cobb sent over 2,200 men to Stewart Detention Center (SDC) in Lumpkin, Georgia, last year, Anton Flores of Alterna told Atlanta Progressive News.

SDC, a private prison operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), houses men from all three Georgia counties arrested under 287(g), and even states throughout the Southeastern US, until they are deported from the US. SDC also imprisons immigrant men who have been picked up as part of raids and who have been detained through other mechanisms.

Over 70,000 men go through their facility each year, Flores said.

Immigrant women detainees are sent to Etowah County, Alabama, Flores said.

Activists and attorneys had previously held humanitarian visitations with about 12 detainees at the Stewart facility on Sunday, October 12, 2008. Family members of these individuals had contacted GLAHR or Alterna seeking assistance for individuals held, Flores said.

Holding these people increases the pay rate, or per diem reimbursement, from the federal government via Immigrant and Customs Enforcement (ICE), for housing them in local prisons from $20 to $42 per day.

Stewart's per diem is even higher, about $65 per day, according to Flores.

"They don't mind if ICE is back-logged. That's more money for them," he said.

According to APN's calculations, that would be about $39 million in revenue per year for CCA.

Out of the per diem, ICE pays the Stewart County Commission $1, or about $600,000 per year, Flores said.

Cobb County jail made $61,000 last year for housing illegal immigrants, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper.

Organizations represented at the gathering include US Human Rights Project, the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, Cobb Immigration Alliance, Woman's Watch Africa, Alterna, Center for Pan Asian Community Services, Atlanta Jobs for Justice, and others.

Almost all agreed that a comprehensive immigrations bill needs to be passed.

"At this moment the authorities, the police, don't feel there is any control over them. The big tragedy of not passing immigration reform was that it opened the door for all kinds of ridiculous things they are doing. There is no federal law," Teodoro Maus, former Chief Consul to Atlanta from Mexico, told Atlanta Progressive News.

"That's why they have the legislation [Senate bill] 350. These people are out of the game, they will never be able to apply and become legalized," Maus said.

Senate Bill 350, which passed and was signed into law by Governor Perdue in May 2008, makes driving without a license a felony. Illegal immigrants cannot get licenses in Georgia.

Representatives from the African, Asian, and Hispanic communities were present.

"There are lots of Africans who are imprisoned in Cobb County. They own homes and have their own businesses. The majority of them have applied for permanent residence. Because of the crazy system they don't get it," Glory Kilanko of Women's Watch Africa told APN.

Conditions in the detention centers are said not to come up to either federal or humanitarian guidelines.

"People do not follow the guidelines of ICE. We have heard that access to health care and phone calls and being notified of the charges against them are not being done in a timely manner at all," John Park of the Center for Pan Asian Community Services said in an interview.

"We choose to place them in isolated, remote locations like Lumpkin, Georgia. Families have to travel from Florida and North Carolina to do visitation," Park said.

"The only Attorney in Stewart County is the former mayor, and he is not an immigration attorney. The company that runs the jail made $50 million last year. There are no bilingual hearing officers at the Stewart Detention Center. Transgendered individuals are placed directly in solitary confinement," Flores said in his speech.

"The average stay in the Stewart Detention Center is 40 days. They are not expediting deportation so we are actually seeing the number of days that people are being held there increase over time," Flores said.

One result has been a community of increasing crime, advocates said.

"When people are afraid to go to the police, dehumanized and sectioned off, then what is created is an underground world of crime and an underground economy and most of the officials of Cobb County have no idea that this is going on," Rich Pellegrino from Cobb Immigration Alliance said in his speech.

A counter demonstration of three people took place across the street.

"The United States of America should secure its borders... It is a fundamental duty of the federal government, to begin to punish all the employers, the illegal aliens and all those who encourage them. If we enforce our laws then the illegal aliens will go home," demonstrator DA King, founder of the Dustin Inman Society, told Atlanta Progressive News.

There is some doubt whether that is his real name, as another protester also identified themselves to APN as DA King.

Dustin Inman was a 16 year old killed by a drunk driver who was an illegal immigrant, the anti-immigration protesters said.

Ironically, both demonstrations did seek at least one common goal: one standard, enforceable set of federal regulations for those that are currently illegal immigrants.

Alice Gordon, Staff Writer, is reachable is

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