ATLANTA – A national group of medical experts is calling on senior immigration officials to immediately release the hundreds of people detained in a detention center in South Georgia following reports of new COVID-19 outbreaks at the facility.
In a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) Alejandro Mayorkas, the advocacy group warned doctors for the camp closure of the grave risk of continuing to detain people in the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Ocilla, Ga.
“People detained at the ICDC fear for their lives as at least three different residential units have been closed in the past few weeks due to apparent COVID-19 outbreaks,” the letter said. “We urgently recommend ICE to release the people detained in the ICDC immediately  to prevent the spread of COVID-19 throughout the facility and to protect the well-being of staff, the community, and those incarcerated at the facility. “
Citing interviews and letters from immigrants who remain incarcerated at the ICDC, as well as cases of ICE’s own negligence, the group describes the dangerous prison conditions under which COVID-19 continues to spread.
“It’s more about when than if our pod gets infected with the virus,” said one of the men recently incarcerated at the ICDC.
According to the medical experts, the “dirty, unsanitary” conditions and confined spaces of the ICDC exacerbate the threat posed by COVID-19. “Given the imminent threat of the COVID-19 epidemic and the unique vulnerability of immigrants in ICE detention, it is impossible to ensure a” safe and humane environment “as required by ICE’s own national detention standards,” write the doctors.
The letter comes amid increasing momentum from advocates and organizers calling on the new government to release people from ICE detention and to close the prisons for good. On Sunday at 1:30 p.m. EST, organizers with Somos South Georgia and other organizations are holding a rally outside the ICDC.
Doctors for Camp Closure’s letter follows the work of organizers, legal clinics, and lawyers who have been tracking health risks at the ICDC since 2020. Attorneys from the Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and law students from the University of The Georgia School of Law’s Community Health Law Partnership Clinic, Columbia Law School’s Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, and Boston’s Immigrants Rights & Human Trafficking Program University School of Law, Harvard Law School’s Immigration & Refugee Clinical Program, and Texas A&M University School of Law’s Immigrant Rights Clinic have filed against ICE clearance requests for people still incarcerated at ICDC, according to Fraihat.
The new government has no time to waste in releasing everyone from ICE custody, say supporters. Last year, a health care provider at the ICDC was killed due to COVID. Astounding COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred in other prisons, including the nearby Stewart Detention Center, where four people have already been killed from COVID-19.
“People inside have been alerting the deadly threat of COVID-19 for almost a year, yet more than 13,000 migrants are still trapped in gathering environments under the authority of ICE,” he said Laura Rivera, director of SPLC’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative. “ICE must take the needs of migrants seriously and take swift action to release migrants into their families and communities where they can take the necessary precautions to protect their own health.”
BACKGROUND AND RELATED RESOURCES
Hundreds of people are still staying at the ICDC, which signs a contract with ICE to detain migrants. The ICDC is operated by the private prison company LaSalle Corrections, and the facility also functions as a county prison.
Fraihat v ICE is a nationwide class action lawsuit brought by SPLC and partners. A federal judge ordered ICE to make custody decisions for those with COVID-19 risk factors and conduct extensive testing and mitigate protective measures.
The ICDC was in the national spotlight last year when a nurse whistled against Mahendra Amin, a gynecologist accused of exposing women imprisoned there to unrestricted invasive and medically unnecessary procedures. Federal disputes challenge the medical abuse, including gynecological abuse and retaliation, that women have suffered for years on the ICDC. SPLC assisted women filing medical complaints with the Georgia Medical Composite Board for the past year.
The national advocacy group Detention Watch Network this week declared the ICDC one of the “top ten” of all immigrant detention centers that the Biden government should prioritize for closure because of “overwhelming signs of abuse and neglect”.
SPLC and partners had previously filed a habeas petition in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia in April 2020 to request the release of medically vulnerable people at the facility. The petition contained allegations about the individuals ‘underlying health conditions, unmet medical needs and experiences begging for medical treatment, and the prisons’ failure to address the risk of mass transmission.
Doctors for Camp Closure is a non-partisan organization of over 3,000 doctors and health professionals of all specialties who speak out against the inhumane detention of migrants and refugees attempting to enter the United States. Learn more at https://d4cc.nationbuilder.com/ and follow @ Doc4CampClosure
A catalyst for racial justice in the South and beyond, the SPLC works with communities to break down white supremacy, empower intersectional movements, and promote human rights for all people.