In letter to DHS officials and Congressional leaders, Doctors for Camp Closure detail perils of continued detention at the notorious South Georgia immigrant prison
ATLANTA – A national group of medical experts is calling on top immigration officials to immediately release the hundreds of people who remain detained in a South Georgia detention facility amid reports of new COVID-19 outbreaks at the facility.
In a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the advocacy group Doctors for Camp Closure warned of the grave risk of continuing to detain people at the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Ocilla, Ga.
“People detained in ICDC fear for their lives as at least three different housing units have gone under lockdown in recent weeks due to apparent outbreaks of COVID-19,” reads the letter. “We strongly recommend that ICE immediately release the people detained at ICDC  to prevent the spread of COVID-19 throughout the facility and protect the well-being of staff, community and those being held within the facility.”
Citing interviews and letters from immigrants who remain detained at ICDC, and instances of ICE’s own negligence, the group details the dangerous conditions inside the prison where the spread of COVID-19 continues.
“It is a matter of ‘when,’ rather than ‘if’ our pod will be infected by the virus,” said one of men detained at ICDC in a recent letter.
According to the medical experts, the “filthy, unsanitary” conditions and tight quarters of ICDC exacerbate the threat of COVID-19. “Considering the immediate threat of the COVID-19 epidemic and the unique vulnerabilities of immigrants in ICE detention, it is impossible to ensure a ‘safe, secure 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 who are calling on the new administration to release people from ICE detention and shutter the prisons for good. On Sunday at 1:30pm EST, organizers with Somos South Georgia and other organizations will hold a rally outside ICDC.
The letter from Doctors for Camp Closure follows the work of organizers, law clinics and lawyers, who have been tracking health risks in ICDC since 2020. Lawyers with the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative and law students from the University of Georgia School of Law's Community Health Law Partnership Clinic, Columbia Law School's Immigrants' Rights Clinic, Boston University School of Law's Immigrants' Rights & Human Trafficking Program, Harvard Law School's Immigration & Refugee Clinical Program, and Texas A&M University School of Law's Immigrant Rights Clinic, have been filing release requests for people still detained at ICDC, pursuant to Fraihat v. ICE.
The new administration has no time to waste in releasing everyone from ICE custody, say advocates. In the past year, a health care provider at ICDC lost her life due to COVID. And there have been staggering COVID-19 outbreaks at other prisons, including nearby Stewart Detention Center, where at least four people have already lost their lives to COVID-19.
“People on the inside have been raising the alarm of the deadly threat of COVID-19 for nearly a year now, yet more than 13,000 migrants still remain trapped in congregate settings under ICE’s authority,” said Laura Rivera, director of SPLC’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative. “ICE must take seriously the demands of migrants and take swift action to release migrants to their families and communities, where they can take the precautions necessary to safeguard their own health.”
BACKGROUND AND RELATED RESOURCES
Hundreds of people still remain inside ICDC, which contracts with ICE to detain migrants. ICDC is operated by the private prison company LaSalle Corrections, and the facility also operates as a county jail.
Fraihat v. ICE is a nationwide class action lawsuit filed by SPLC and partners. A federal judge ordered ICE to make custody determinations for individuals with COVID-19 risk factors and to implement widespread testing and mitigating safeguards.
ICDC came under the national spotlight last year when a nurse blew the whistle against Mahendra Amin, a gynecologist accused of subjecting women detained there to unconsented to invasive and medically unnecessary procedures. Federal litigation is challenging the medical abuse, including gynecological abuse, and retaliation that women have suffered at ICDC for years. SPLC last year assisted women in filing medical grievances with the Georgia Medical Composite Board.
The national advocacy group Detention Watch Network this week declared ICDC among the “First Ten” of all immigration detention facilities that the Biden administration should prioritize for closure due to “overwhelming evidence of abuse and neglect.”
SPLC and partners previously filed a habeas petition in April of 2020 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia to file for the release of medically vulnerable individuals in the facility. The petition included allegations about the individuals’ underlying health conditions, unmet medical needs, and experiences begging for medical treatment, as well as the jails’ failure to address the risk of mass transmission.
Doctors for Camp Closure is a non-partisan organization of over 3,000 physicians and healthcare professionals from all specialties who oppose the inhumane detention of migrants and refugees who are attempting to enter the United States of America. Learn more at https://d4cc.nationbuilder.com/ and follow at @Doc4CampClosure
The SPLC is a catalyst for racial justice in the South and beyond, working in partnership with communities to dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements, and advance the human rights of all people.