Immigration activists rally for reform in front of ICE office in Atlanta

Group demanded end to deportations and detention

About three dozen protesters gathered on Thursday in front of Atlanta’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement field office, part of a national day of action calling for sweeping reform by immigrant rights advocates.

As attendees waved signs that read “communities not cages” and “abolish ICE,” Sebastian Saavedra with the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights stated the rally’s purpose. “We are here demanding … the end of deportations, the shutdown of all detention centers, and the release of all the people in immigration detention.”

In between chants of “free them all,” speakers took the Biden administration to task, voicing frustration over its track record on immigration, which includes an increase in the number of people in immigrant detention since taking office. Since the end of January, the number of detainees has increased by more than 50% to nearly 23,000 as of September 23, according to the most recent ICE data.

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

In his campaign, Biden had promised to end privately-run detention centers, including those that hold immigrants (ICE has long relied heavily on private detention centers operated by for-profit corporations). But an executive order signed in January aiming to end the use of private prisons carved out an exception for those used by immigration authorities.

“They made promises. They better keep them,” Saavedra said.

Also addressing the rally on Thursday was Amilcar Valencia, executive director of El Refugio, a nonprofit that supports immigrant detainees at Stewart Detention Center in Southwest Georgia.

“We are tired of the rhetoric that we are supporting the immigrant community, but when it comes to real action we are not seeing it,” he said.

Valencia noted that his organization helped file an August 30 complaint on behalf of medically vulnerable individuals at Stewart, where four detainees have died of COVID-19, the highest total of any ICE detention center in the country.

“Those four people who died in Stewart should be here today.”

After a DUI arrest in the fall of 2019, Nilson Barahona-Marriaga was detained for 13 months in two Georgia immigrant detention facilities: Stewart Detention Center and Irwin County Detention Center.

“I feel so sorry for the people who are detained,” Barahona-Marriaga, an immigrant from Honduras, told rallygoers while fighting back tears. “Our communities are suffering. The families of those who are detained are suffering as well. We just want to be part of this country.”

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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