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Civil rights groups: Immigrants in Alabama detention facility need access to outdoor recreation

The SPLC and the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC) urged Etowah County in Alabama to provide outdoor recreation access at a detention center where some immigrants spend months, or even years, without going outside.

The Etowah County Detention Center (ECDC), located in Gadsden, Alabama, does not currently provide access to outdoor recreation, a situation that may violate the constitutional rights of detained immigrants, according to a letter sent by the groups.

The facility holds about 300 immigrants under a contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. Etowah County commissioners are considering renovations, but the plans do not appear to include outdoor recreational space.

“The fact that the county would undertake renovations to the Etowah County Detention Center without adding access to outdoor recreation demonstrates their indifference both to the experiences of the immigrants in their custody and to the standards that govern that custody,” said Lisa Graybill, deputy legal director at the SPLC.

“If the county facility cannot meet ICE’s standards, Etowah County should not be entrusted with detainees, and ICE should place them elsewhere.”

ICE’s Performance-Based National Detention Standards state that facilities should provide at least one hour, and preferably at least four hours, of access to outdoor recreation – weather permitting – and that detainees in facilities that do not meet this standard may request a voluntary transfer to another detention center.

“Not only do immigrants detained by ICE have a constitutional right to outdoor recreation while they are held at ECDC, access to physical activity, sunlight and fresh air is crucial to their well-being,” said Tim Fox, co-executive director of CREEC. “There is no reason the sheriff and the county cannot make outdoor recreation available to ICE detainees as part of their other changes to the facility.”

Read more about the conditions at immigrant detention centers in Shadow Prisons: Immigrant Detention in the South.