BY THE NUMBERS
• In 2010, Immigration and Custom Enforcement detained more than 442,000 people -- more than double the number of detainees in 2003 when ICE was established as an agency.
• Detaining them costs taxpayers about $166 per day per person, for a total of $5.5 million.
• Alternatives to detention programs, such as in-person reporting by phone or the use of a monitoring ankle bracelet, cost about $8.88 a day per individual.
• For fiscal year 2012, the U.S. House of Representatives has approved a budget of $2.75 billion for detention and removal -- more than $184 million more than the previous year.
Source: ACLU of Georgia
Undercooked or expired food, distribution of used underwear and detainees being kept in segregation for more than 60 days are some of the violations found in Georgia's four immigration detention centers, the ACLU reported Wednesday.
"This report documents serious abuses in Georgia detention centers requiring immediate action," said Azadeh Shahshahani, National Security/Immigrants' Rights Project director with the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Georgia.
But Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Corrections Corporation of America, which operates two of the immigration detention centers, disagree with the findings, officials said.
The ACLU of Georgia spent three years researching the state's immigration detention centers -- which includes Stewart Detention Center, the largest in the nation -- interviewing 68 detainees, family members, attorneys; touring the facilities; and reviewing government documents, according to the report, "Prisoners of Profit: Immigrants and Detention in Georgia."
"Findings from these diverse sources raise serious concerns about violations of detainees' due process rights, inadequate living conditions, inadequate medical and mental health care, and abuse of power by those in charge," Shahshahani said.
Detainees in each of the facilities reported instances where ICE officers, deportation officers and even immigration judges attempted to coerce detainees to sign orders of removal, the report states.
While ICE still is reviewing the report's findings, spokesman Vincent Picard said in an email, "We are disappointed that it appears to contain many unsubstantiated and factually incorrect claims."
At least four of the people who claimed to have been pressured into signing their voluntary departure weren't eligible because of prior deportations or felony criminal convictions, Picard said.
Georgia, the state with the third-largest number of deportation orders in the country, has four immigration detention centers, three of which are privately owned.
CCA owns two of them, Stewart and the North Georgia Detention Center. According to the report, the corporation with headquarters in Nashville earned almost $1.7 billion in 2010.
America Gruner, founder of the Coalition of Latino Leaders in Dalton, Ga., said the findings are in line what she hears from the community.
"When we used to visit men detained in Stewart, the conditions were very hard. They would say that food wasn't very good, that oftentimes they were given undercooked rice and that if they had a medical condition it would be days before they would be tended to," she said.
"And women at Irwin would tell us about not getting undergarments," she said, which prompted what the group dubbed "Operation Panty."
The group collects cotton underwear to take to the women held in the detention center.
The goal, Gruner said, is to give them hope as well as providing a basic need.
Steven Owen, spokesman for CCA, said the company addressed many of the concerns of the ACLU. In regard to medical care, the company said all appointments are scheduled according to necessity, detainees are issued a personal hygiene kit upon arrival and strict guidelines are followed for everything from food to visitations.
The ACLU recommended that the government stop detaining immigrants at the Irwin County Detention Center and at Stewart, in part because their remote locations make it harder for legal representatives and families to get to and because "the consistent accounts of substandard living conditions."
It also recommended that the Atlanta City Detention Center provide outdoor recreation and that the North Georgia Center pay minimum wage to detainees who choose to enroll in the voluntary work program -- they now make about $3 a day.
Picard said all four of the detention facilities named have been inspected within the last year and found to be in compliance.
"In fact, since August 2009 ICE has been engaged in a significant reform of the immigration detention system to prioritize the health and safety of detainees in our custody while increasing federal oversight and improving the conditions of confinement within the detention system," he said, adding that ICE has officers on-site.
Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...