Earlier this month, Mayor Kasim Reed boasted on his very active Twitter account that his town is immigrant friendly.
“Atlanta is proud to be a welcoming city,” he wrote. “Pleased to be a part of the Safe Cities Network offering legal representation for those individuals facing deportation.”
Fighting for the rights of immigrants is now an important battleground for Dems and progressives. Families are being torn apart through deportation. People who’ve lived and worked here for years suddenly disappear one day into a murky system that affords them few rights. And it’s President Donald Trump’s pet issue!
From a liberal standpoint, resistance is a noble fight. It’s standing up for the powerless.
So, it might come as a surprise that the city of Atlanta, that beacon of civil rights, that Sanctuary City Lite, is profiting greatly from Señor Trump’s roundup. (As it did from President Barack Obama’s roundup, as well.)
At any given time, the Atlanta City Detention Center in south downtown holds about 250 immigrants waiting to be booted from U.S. soil. The city receives $78 per each detained soul per night from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Multiply those numbers and that human suffering amounts to some real cash.
During the fiscal year that ended June 30, Atlanta received nearly $6.5 million in payments from the feds to hold ICE detainees in the detention center. This fiscal year, the city is on pace to pull in $7.5 million. That does not include the tens of thousands of dollars in overtime for guards the city also receives.
Hizzoner likes to brag about the city’s fiscal success. But placing it on the backs of the scared and downtrodden doesn’t seem to be the Atlanta Way. What would MLK do?
This dirty little open secret has bugged immigration activists for years. The Mayor and other local pols are showboating, they say.
“They want to play politics with the current administration, but at the same time they’re detaining hundreds of immigrants,” said Adelina Nicholls, executive director of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights. “We have asked them to make a policy change, to be a welcoming city in actions, not just in words. You can’t be an icon of civil rights and also be holding immigrants in violation of civil rights.
“The city needs to take a stand, to take a stand for what is right.”
Azadeh Shahshahani, the legal and advocacy director for Project South, also chimed in: “The city is profiting off the pain of immigrants. I don’t see why the city is not cutting this off.
“I don’t know if it’s the money or what,” she said. “There are four ICE detention centers in Georgia. Why is one of them operated by the city of Atlanta?”
Well, I suppose the city figures that ICE is going to round up immigrants suspected of being unauthorized anyway. And they have to lock ‘em up somewhere. So why not us?
“By housing immigration detainees at the Atlanta City Detention Center, we can guarantee these immigrants receive far superior treatment than at other facilities, including access to health care, access to their family members and a network of resources found in our city and the metropolitan area,” mayoral spokeswoman Jenna Garland told my colleague Jeremy Redmon. “The ACDC is highly accessible by mass transit, and as a result, the families of detained immigrants find it much easier to visit the ACDC compared to other facilities.”
Heck, the city might even install some bike lanes to make it easier for grief-stricken immigrants to cycle to see their detained relatives before they’re deported.
Kevin Caron, a volunteer from Georgia Detention Watch, said he frequently gets phone calls from ICE detainees at the detention center complaining about how cold it is, how the showers don’t work, how access to medical treatment is sometimes delayed, and even how sporadic the phones are.
In May, an Indian national suffering from high blood pressure and diabetes died at Grady Memorial Hospital after a stint at Atlanta’s detention center.
The common mantra from the deport-them-now! crowd is that unauthorized immigrants are also often criminals and are usually locked up by ICE because they have committed crimes — and will keep doing it. But studies show immigrants are more law-abiding than native Americans.
On Thursday, Caron spoke with an immigrant who was locked up after getting snagged in a metro county for jaywalking.
This whole issue has gotten amped up because it’s political season and furriners are always dependable whipping boys.
For weeks, Republican gubernatorial candidate Casey Cagle has been beating up on that adorable little liberal bastion of Decatur for instituting a rule that says their cops won’t turn over people to ICE without a signed judicial warrant.
Then Atlanta this month announced it was among 11 cities and counties across the U.S. joining the SAFE Cities Network, which helps obtain lawyers to represent immigrants facing deportation. Reed’s office said the program will operate with grants from the Vera Institute of Justice and public money.
Program supporters say it will give immigrants an outside shot in their deportation proceedings. Not all those getting booted are the “bad hombres” Trump railed about on the campaign trail.
Shahshahani, the immigration advocate, said various activist groups have asked Atlanta to stop holding (and profiting from) detainees.
“The city, unfortunately, has dismissed our concerns,” she said, adding that maybe the issue might ring true for one of the two mayoral candidates, Keisha Lance Bottoms or Mary Norwood.
In the meantime, Mayor Reed can talk a good game about helping some detainees get a lawyer. And the city can keep getting big checks for keeping them locked up.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.