Tuesday, May 15, 2018

How Many More Families Must Endure the Death of a Loved One Before the U.S. Will Put an End to the Abusive Detention of Immigrants?: 70 Organizations Call on the International Community to Intervene.

by Sarah Paoletti,  Penn Law, contributing editor

One year after Jean Carlo Jiménez Lanza, a 27 year old Panamanian citizen, died in detention at the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia, 70 advocacy organizations have joined in Project South’s call for the international community to intervene.  Mr. Jiménez Lanza’s death May 15, 2017, is not an isolated incident.  That same month, Atul Kumar Babubhai Patel, a 58-year-old immigrant from India, died in the Atlanta City Detention Facility.  According to Detention Watch Network, 177 people have died while in ICE custody between the years 2003 through 2017.  And 2018 is already marred by three additional deaths: Yulio Castro-Garrido, a 33 year old man from Cuba, who died while in ICE custody at Stewart; Luis Ramirez-Marcano, 59, a Cuban national detained at the Krome Detention Center in South Florida; and, most recently, Gourgen Mirimanian, a 54 year old Armenian national, detained by ICE Prairieland Detention Center (PDC) in Alvarado, Texas.

One cannot understate the tragedy of these deaths, and the – at best – willful blindness on the part of the U.S. government and particularly the Department of Homeland Security to the conditions and circumstances that ultimately result in such tragedies.  Advocates have long been calling for an end to immigration detention, and – at the very least – for adherence to ICE’s Performance Based National Detention Standards of 2011. In its Communication to the UN Special Rapporteur on Migrants, as well as several other UN rapporteurships and working groups with relevant mandates, Project South and the Transnational Legal Clinic at the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, have detailed the ways in which officials at the Stewart and Irwin Detention Centers in Georgia routinely violate those Detention Standards, and well-established rights under international law. 

In May 2017, the same month that Mr. Jiménez Lanza, died in ICE Custody at Stewart, Project South and the Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Penn State School of Law released a detailed report, Imprisoned Justice: Inside Two Georgia Immigration Detention Centers, highlighting the abusive conditions at the Stewart Detention Center, and at the Irwin Detention Center, both owned and operated by the for-profit corporation, CoreCivic, Inc. (formerly Corrections Corporation of America).  Later that year, Project South and their allies sent their report with a request for an investigation to the Georgia Congressional Delegation.  To date, no officials from the Department of Homeland Security have responded to the call to come to Georgia to meet with Project South, other advocates, and the families of those detained at the Stewart and Irwin facilities.  Similarly, the Georgia Congressional Delegation has not heeded the urgent invitation to intervene.

Having failed to garner a satisfactory response from the executive and legislative branches of government, advocates are now looking to the courts and the international community to intervene.  On April 17th, Project South, together with the Southern Poverty Law Center and Burns Charest LLP, filed a class action on behalf of Wilhen Hill Barrientos, Margartio Velazquez Galicia, and Shoaib Ahmed, and others similarly situated, in the Middle District of Georgia, against CoreCivic, Inc., challenging CoreCivic’s “deprivation scheme intended to force detained immigrants to work for nearly free.”  Earlier in April, Southern Poverty Law Center, together with Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP and the Law Office of Melissa Crow, filed suit in the U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia against DHS, ICE and high-level officials with oversight over immigration detention, challenging their systemic denial of access to counsel to immigrants detained at the Stewart and Irwin Detention Centers in Georgia, as well as the LaSalle Detention Center in Jena, Louisiana.

The Communication submitted to the UN Special Rapporteur on Migrants was copied to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the UN Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and the Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression. It calls on the UN independent human rights experts to intervene and urge the United States to uphold its obligations under international law. It asks them to issue a letter of allegation to the United States with a request for an invitation to conduct a site visit.  In the alternative, it calls on these bodies to conduct an informal site visit, and to listen to and amplify the voices of those detained at Stewart and Irwin – voices that the U.S. government, and its proxy CoreCivic, have sought to silence – before another person dies. 


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