Immigrant advocates protest Georgia ICE jail expansion

Protesters rally in front of the Folkston immigration detention complex on Thursday, March 3, 2022.

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Protesters rally in front of the Folkston immigration detention complex on Thursday, March 3, 2022.

Folkston detention center is set to become one of the country’s largest

A crowd of roughly 30 immigrant rights advocates held a rally on Thursday across the street from a South Georgia immigrant detention center to protest its planned expansion.

Last month, exclusive AJC reporting revealed that the privately-run immigration jail located in Folkston, a town of about 4,400 near the Florida-Georgia border, is set to nearly quadruple its capacity. With over 3,000 beds, the expanded detention center would be one of the largest of its kind in the nation.

On Thursday, protesters waved signs calling for a stop to the expansion and chanted, in Spanish, “Sin papeles, sin miedo.” “No papers, no fear.” The gathering was part of a national day of action, as immigrant advocates rallied across the country and called attention to what they describe as a lack of achievement from the Biden administration in the immigration space.

“These actions are a channel for advocates to express their deep disappointment over this administration’s broken promises to create immigration relief, stop deportation and to end private detention,” said Jonathan Zuñiga-Hernandez with the Georgia Latino Alliance of Human Rights, one of the groups who organized Thursday’s Folkston gathering.

News of the Folkston expansion comes months after the president had stated that “private detention centers should not exist” in remarks delivered in Georgia. Over the course of its first year in office, the Biden administration kept in place some restrictive Trump-era immigration policies, a source of frustration for progressive immigration advocates.

On Thursday, speakers at the rally recognized that local city and county officials in Folkston support the detention’s center expansion because they see the possibility of more local jobs and additional tax revenue. But they said economic development should take a backseat to human rights.

“Every time I’m outside a detention center I think to myself, ‘You know, the difference between the people inside and me being outside is just luck, because I’m also undocumented, said Daniela Rodriguez, executive director of Migrant Equity Southeast, based in Savannah. “We are only asking to be treated with dignity and respect.”

She added: “Like or not, undocumented immigrants are here to say … You better get used to seeing us out here, because we will be back.”

Lautaro Grinspan is a Report for America corps member covering metro Atlanta’s immigrant communities.