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SPLC: How many more must perish in ICE camps?

COLUMBUS, Ga. – Santiago Baten-Oxlaj, a 34-year-old Guatemalan man, became the second known person to die from COVID-19 under the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Baten-Oxlaj was detained at Stewart Detention Center, a massive migrant prison in rural Georgia operated by the private prison corporation CoreCivic. ICE and CoreCivic have failed to prevent the COVID-19 outbreak at Stewart that experts repeatedly warned inevitable if not for the mass release of the people trapped inside.  

The following statement is from Laura Rivera, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s (SPLC) Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI), which provides pro-bono representation to individuals detained at Stewart out of its Lumpkin, Georgia field office: 

“Santiago Baten-Oxlaj should be alive, and free, today. We stand with his family and loved ones in mourning Santiago’s senseless and premature death.  

“As the pandemic rages, we must not become numb to the avoidable loss of life resulting from needless ICE detention. Instead of languishing in sordid prisons, these immigrants should be free to protect themselves and their loved ones from COVID-19.  

“We remain steadfast in our efforts to free those who remain at the mercy of ICE in Stewart and every other one of ICE’s deadly detention camps.” 

The situation at Stewart has grown dire in recent weeks as ICE escalates their violent “SWAT-like" use of force on detained individuals choosing to go on hunger strikes in a last-ditch effort to advocate for their freedom amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In addition to its SIFI representation, SPLC is seeking the release of medically vulnerable individuals at Stewart by means of habeas petition filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for this Thursday, May 28.