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Survivors of ICE Detention and Advocates React to DHS Decision to Cut Detention Contracts

OCILLA, Ga. – The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) today directed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to end its contracts with the Bristol County Detention Center in North Dartmouth, Mass., and the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Ocilla, Ga. 

ICDC came under the national spotlight last year when a whistleblower complaint filed by advocates in September 2020 detailed numerous medical abuses, including the mishandling of COVID-19 procedures and the unnecessary and invasive gynecological procedures performed on more than 50 women detained at the facility without their informed consent. 

Last week, immigrants formerly detained across Georgia called on the Biden administration to shut down ICDC and end immigrant detention. Three of those organizers offered the following reaction in a new letter to the Biden administration. 

Li Ann Estrella Sanchez said:

“As a survivor of ICE custody in Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC), I am glad to hear that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has announced the end of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contracts with Lasalle Corrections at ICDC. The long history of abuse is not erased with this decision. This will not heal nor alleviate the harm that was caused by ICDC. We do not want to see the transfer of the people remaining in ICDC to other prisons like Stewart Detention Center, Robert A. Deyton Detention Facility, and Folkston ICE Processing Center. We will not stop until all ICE prisons are shut down. This includes private detention centers and federally operated ICE prisons. It is not over until all detention centers are closed and all immigrants are liberated!”

Nilson Barahona said:

“In 2019 due to a 287(g) agreement, I ended up in ICE custody and lived the most horrible experience of my life. I spent 13 months in ICE detention centers in Georgia including Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC). I refer you to our last letter recently sent by Li Ann, me, and several other directly impacted individuals. There we describe how ICE and private corporations like Lasalle Corrections treat us in degrading and inhumane ways. The announcement that DHS is ending ICE contracts with Lasalle Corrections at ICDC shows that when the community comes together, we can accomplish anything. This announcement is long overdue. The fact is that ICDC should have never existed. I do not want to see the people still incarcerated in ICDC to be transferred to prisons like Stewart Detention Center which is exactly what happened to me after a hunger strike and an effort to denounce ICDC’s deplorable conditions that some of us survived.”

Andrea Manrique said: 

“Today, I received notification of the decision to end Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contracts with Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC), news that I celebrated as a victim and survivor of this horrible place. I raised my hands and I give infinite thanks to God because this should have been done a long time ago to avoid thousands of abuses and violations of human rights, traumas, and memories impossible to erase from the soul. Today, we survivors celebrate the first step to closing and canceling contracts for places like Irwin. I ask that every act that was committed in this place of horror be paid for and justice done on behalf of every survivor and human being. We are still healing every second that we are deprived of our liberty in inhumane conditions. This is the first step to the closure of all ICE prisons. These places should never have existed and this closure is clear proof that their existence is totally unnecessary, unjust, and against the fundamental rights of all immigrants.”

The full letter can be read here. 

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative represents immigrants detained at ICE prisons across the Deep South, including ICDC. The SPLC stands in solidarity with those who have been subjected to immigrant detention, those who demand respect for the right of impacted individuals to tell their stories on their own terms, and the grassroots organizations leading the movement to end ICE Detention. 

The following statement is from Diego Sánchez, a direct services attorney based in Ocilla with the Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative.

“This victory is a testament to the unrelenting organizing among the women who came forward, the brave detained individuals and their families who continue to speak truth and seek justice, the strong coalition of formerly detained people, and organizers across the state of Georgia. 

“The Biden-Harris administration must now recognize the unconscionable abuses that occurred at ICDC are not isolated incidents and that individuals who were transferred to Stewart Detention Center or elsewhere are no better off or safer than they were at ICDC. No person should languish in a system inherently designed to dehumanize and deny their very existence, as ICE detention does. ICE has the authority to release all the immigrants who remain at ICDC, and we call on the government to do the right thing and provide releases, not transfers. 

“Momentum to end ICE detention has never been greater, and the Biden administration has a mandate to shutter all immigrant prisons once and for all. We must continue to dismantle the detention system, prison by prison, until every last person is free from the cruel, wasteful, and inhumane ICE detention machine.”