Vargas, a migrant from Mexico, died in April from complications after a stroke. He was being held in the state’s largest immigrant detention facilities: Stewart Detention Center in southwest Georgia.
“ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody,” ICE said in a news release at the time.
Since the onset of the pandemic, four detainees have died of COVID-19 at Stewart. Between 2017 and 2019, two men who were being held in solitary confinement there hanged themselves, a third died with pneumonia and a fourth died with a heart infection and multi-organ failure.
“Georgia is the site of some of the most deadly detention centers in the country,” Villasana said.
According to federal data, there have been 46 deaths of migrants in ICE custody across the U.S. since 2018.
In the wake of Vargas’ death, another adult migrant, Ernesto Rocha-Cuadra, died in a Louisiana ICE detention center. In May, an 8-year-old migrant girl died in U.S. Border Patrol custody shortly after crossing the border with her family. Federal investigators said staff denied several requests to take the migrant girl to the hospital despite symptoms of illness that included a high fever.
“No child should be held in a cage simply because of their parents’ immigration status,” said Uche Onwa, a staffer with the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. “We are rallying today to keep [the government] accountable … No matter the location, ICE detention centers are fundamentally unsafe and must be abolished.”
Onwa himself spent three months in immigrant detention after landing at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, an experience he described as traumatizing. He fled to the U.S. from Nigeria because he was persecuted for being gay.
Also addressing the rally on Monday was Rev. Keyanna Jones, an interfaith leader from DeKalb County and member of the Faith Coalition to Stop Cop City. She criticized the arrest and later transfer to ICE custody of Victor Puertas, an activist charged with domestic terrorism after a fiery protest broke out at the police training center site in March.
Near the end of Monday’s rally, the attendees who had been wearing orange jumpsuits over their clothes removed them and threw them on the ground.
“No one should be treated as less than human. These jails are not fit for a dog, they are not fit for animals,” Villasana said, before stopping herself. “Okay, sorry, I love dogs. … They are not fit for anyone. We are not here to protest just one instance of death and neglect in these horrible conditions, but multiple.”
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