COVID-19 circumstances, complaints urge legal professionals to request an investigation into ICE Georgia facility

Roberto had only been at the Stewart Detention Center for less than a few months but contracted COVID-19.

“I couldn’t breathe. I lost my sense of smell, my sense of taste. My chest hurt, ”he says. “I felt like I was going to have a heart attack. I was afraid to fall asleep. “

He said while he was with Stewart He received masks earlier this year, but inconsistently. And a lack of social distancing made it difficult to adhere to health guidelines.

He wants to be called Roberto because his immigration status is pending. He lost his residency status after a drug charge put him in jail. After serving his time, he was detained by immigration officials for more than a year.

Roberto’s experience with COVID-19 at Stewart coincides with a new report released Tuesday by advocates about conditions at the facility during the pandemic.

Those detained at Stewart say the facility did not take adequate precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

And they want federal agencies to investigate.

According to the report by El Refugio, an organization that coordinates care for those detained at Stewart, immigrants are not given regular tests or personal protective equipment at the facility, and medical treatment for COVID-19 is often delayed.

The report also says that solitary confinement has been used to quarantine people.

Roberto said he was isolated in solitary confinement for four days while experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.

Proponents also point out that Stewart has long had problems with medical neglect.

For example, a 2017 report The Office of the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security showed long waits for medical care at the facility, as well as a lack of cleanliness and basic hygiene items.

Amilcar Valencia, general manager of El Refugio, says medical neglect has worsened during the pandemic and that people in Stewart are worried about their health.

“The fear is clear. And general fear of dying in custody, ”says Valencia.

Have nine people died in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Service during the pandemic due to COVID-19. Four of these deaths occurred in Stewart, according to ICE. This is most of the immigrant detention center in the country.

The El Refugio report is called Cage of fearis based on more than 400 calls to the El Refugio and Freedom for Immigrants detention hotlines and letters from people detained in Stewart documenting their experiences during the pandemic.

According to Savannah Lengnick, a visit coordinator at El Refugio, calls to the COVID-19 hotline began as soon as a pandemic was declared in March 2020.

“There have been very consistent reports of people only getting a clean mask every two weeks,” Lengnick said of the calls. “Or once someone called us to ask if we could send a clean mask.”

An ICE spokesman did not respond to details on Stewart, but said in a statement that ICE is making sure those in custody are safe.

When asked whether ICE is taking people with COVID-19 symptoms into solitary confinement, a spokesman referred WABE to the Agency detention standardswhich states that a person in custody can be brought into “administrative separation” for medical reasons.

An ICE spokesman did not respond to details on Stewart, but said in a statement that ICE is making sure those in custody are safe. (David Goldman / Associated Press File)

Valencia says although the report focuses on Stewart, the issues extend to other ICE facilities in Georgia.

“People incarcerated in Stewart, people incarcerated in Stewart Irwin, People who are still detained FolkstonPeople detained in other prisons experience these abuses every day, ”he says.

Lawyers are demanding the release of people in ICE custody. In addition to the health risks, they say imprisoning people is a waste of tax dollars. According to the federal government there are almost 17,000 people Arrested by ICE. That is the lowest that has ever been in decades.

Conditions in Stewart hit lawyers and immigrants last week urged President Joe Biden to close private prisons.

Matt Boles is an attorney with the Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Working with immigrants in Stewart, he describes what people are experiencing at the facility during the pandemic as “incredibly bad”.

Stewart is in the rural town of Lumpkin in southwest Georgia. Not only is the city lacking legal services, but its remote location also makes it isolated from emergency medical care.

“Even medical care for everything, not just COVID, is pretty far away,” says Boles.

He says the nearest hospital was in Cuthbert, about 20 miles away. But the Southwest Georgia Regional Medical Center closed last year because of financial difficulties. Now the closest Georgia hospitals to Stewart are in Columbus or Americus, both nearly 60 miles away. There is also an option to drive to Alabama for emergency medical care in Eufaula, about 30 miles away, according to Boles.

Boles and other proponents say ICE detention centers should be closed.

Roberto says he hasn’t felt this way since COVID-19 at Stewart earlier this year.

He gets tired quickly; It’s difficult to train and he still has body aches and pains.

While waiting for a decision on his immigration case, he gets along with the help of his family. If he can stay in the US, he hopes to open his own restaurant. He learned to cook in prison.

“I can make a good mac and cheese,” he says. “I used to burn the water.”

He says his treatment in ICE detention was unfair. He wants federal officials to investigate conditions in Stewart.

“It’s not safe to be there,” says Roberto. “The situation there is terrible, regrettable, depressing.”