ICE resumes holding women in Southwest Georgia detention center

Decision comes amid allegations about mistreatment of female ICE detainees in Ocilla

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has resumed holding women detainees in a sprawling federal immigration detention in southwest Georgia.

Located just outside of Lumpkin, Stewart Detention Center was holding two women as of last week, according to ICE. When it opened in 2006, Stewart detained both men and women but had stopped holding women before 2008, according to Stewart County Manager Mac Moye, who once worked as a case manager there.

News of ICE’s decision comes amid complaints alleging a pattern of medical abuse and harsh retaliation against female ICE detainees at the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla. ICE’s inspector general, federal law enforcement officials and members of Congress are investigating medical care at Irwin.

ICE said its decision to resume detaining women at Stewart is “not related to any specific issue at other ICE detention facilities and has been in the works for some time.” ICE added the change gives it “increased flexibility in housing female detainees in the Atlanta area of responsibility.”

The federal agency’s decision is “an extremely troubling development and a clear attempt by ICE to deflect attention from the abuses at Irwin,” said Azadeh Shahshahani, legal and advocacy director for Project South, an immigrant advocacy organization that is suing ICE concerning the allegations against Irwin.

Shahshahani also referred to how three Stewart detainees have died from COVID-19 this year. In all, the detention center has recorded 411 COVID-19 infections, the second highest total among ICE detention centers nationwide, ICE figures show. Only the La Palma Correctional Center in Eloy, Arizona, has a higher total at 520.