Activists seek to shut down immigration detention center in Georgia

Immigrant rights activists are preparing to return to South Georgia on Nov. 22 for an annual vigil in favor of shutting down a sprawling federal immigration detention center there.

For years the activists have complained about the remote location of the privately-run Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, a small town more than 100 miles south of Atlanta. That isolated location, they said, makes it difficult for detainees to stay in touch with their families and lawyers.

The activists have also cited the prolonged detention of some immigrants there, including Pedro Guzman, a stay-at-home father from Durham, N.C., who was held there for more than a year before he was released.

And they have highlighted the case of Roberto Medina-Martinez, a Stewart detainee who died at a Columbus hospital in 2009. His widow filed a $1 million wrongful death suit against the government, saying her late husband died from myocarditis —- or an inflammation of the heart muscle —- because of the federal government’s negligence. The government denied negligence but reached an undisclosed settlement with the widow.

Further, they have pointed to the case of Mark Lyttle, a U.S. citizen and Georgia resident with mental disabilities who was mistakenly detained at Stewart and then to deported to Mexico in 2008.

“In the name of countless families denied contact visits and torn apart by an evil system of record-breaking detention and deportation, shut down Stewart!” Anton Flores-Maisonet, one of Stewart’s most ardent foes, said in an email.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement released statement Thursday, saying it “takes the care and custody of our detainees very seriously.” ICE said it inspects the center to ensure it follows its standards and that detainees there are kept in a “safe, secure and humane” environment. An independent contractor inspected the center in May and found it was complying with the agency’s standards, ICE said.

ICE “is committed to prioritizing the health and safety of detainees in our custody while increasing federal oversight and improving conditions of confinement within the detention system,” the agency said. “ICE is equally committed to security of our communities here in the U.S. and safeguarding the public from convicted criminals that pose a risk of violence and have been deemed removable from the country.”

“Since ICE initiated a long-term detention reform effort in August 2009, significant changes have been made to the immigration detention system and health care management,” ICE continued. “These reforms address the vast majority of complaints about ICE’s immigration detention system, but they allow ICE to maintain a significant, robust detention capacity to carry out serious immigration enforcement.”

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