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Immigrants in Georgia detention centers lose access to only local pro bono legal services – WABE

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Immigrants in Georgia detention centers lose access to only local pro bono legal services – WABE

The Southern Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI) was the only legal team offering free legal services to individuals detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Georgia's two rural detention centers – the Stewart Detention Center in southwest Georgia and the Folkston Immigration and Customs Enforcement Processing Center in southeast Georgia.

Earlier this month, the initiative's parent organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center, laid off all SIFI staff and many other immigration workers across the country.

“It's no exaggeration to say that without SIFI in these detention centers providing the services we offer, we have no other phone number for people to call,” said Gracie Willis, one of the fired attorneys.

The detention centers can hold nearly 3,000 people, and immigrants from all over the country can be sent to Georgia. Immigrants are not guaranteed legal representation in their cases and often have to navigate mountains of paperwork and policy changes on their own.

Analyses by the nonprofit American Immigration Council show that people in detention with a lawyer are twice as likely to receive the help they want, be it asylum, deportation or other solutions.

Georgia has one of the lowest recognition rates for asylum applications from detainees.

“Stewart is one of the deadliest detention centers in the United States and it's in the middle of nowhere,” said Threthrea Redding, another lawyer who was fired. “What a perfect place to put a facility where no one can go and have access to them.”

The SPLC said it intends to continue helping immigrants, but CEO Margaret Huang said it should do so in a way that addresses overarching systemic issues surrounding immigration.

“It's not that we don't want to help immigrants and other people who are detained across the country for a whole range of reasons, but we recognize that individual representation, while of course very important to the families affected, is too limited in scope,” she said.

She said the scale of the problem had changed since SIFI was introduced in 2017.

“At the end of Trump's term, there were about seven to eight thousand people being held in ICE custody every day,” she said. “I checked today. This week, it was 38,000.”