ICE is now detaining women at one of the nation’s most deadly facilities

(Feb. 2, 2021) A Georgia detention center with the second-highest COVID-19 rate in the nation recently expanded the population of immigrants it detains to include women.

In a statement to Prism, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) confirmed that as of Jan. 27, the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, detains 11 women. This is an increase from December when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Stewart had two women in custody.

ICE said that it plans to detain women at Stewart for the foreseeable future. This is the first time the facility has detained women since at least 2008. Advocates are concerned about the federal immigration agency’s decision to transfer women during a pandemic—especially to Stewart, which is notorious for abuse, medical neglect, and in-custody deaths. In July, Gaby Del Valle and José Olivares reported for The Intercept that medically vulnerable immigrants detained at Stewart were subject to excessive force by guards, including incidents in which guards removed disabled immigrants from wheelchairs and “hurled” them onto the floor.

For more than a decade, women in ICE custody have sounded the alarm about delays in medical treatment and testing in cases where their lives could be at risk; the shackling of pregnant people; and failures to provide even the most basic and routine care—all in violation of ICE’s own standards for detaining women. The federal immigration agency’s move to detain women at Stewart means that CoreCivic would have to expand its healthcare services to include sexual and reproductive health care, for example, and possibly prenatal care.

A spokesperson for ICE told Prism that Stewart “is equipped and prepared to detain females and will continue to coordinate female medical care with [ICE Health Service Corps] as they do all medical care,” but Azadeh Shahshahani, the legal advocacy director at the organization Project South, said the facility has proven itself to be incapable of providing proper medical care.

In 2009, the attorney represented the family of Roberto Medina-Martinez, a 39-year-old immigrant who died of a treatable heart infection while detained at Stewart. Medina-Martinez’s case revealed that the detention center’s doctor failed to review more than 1,000 physical exams over the course of one year, including Medina-Martinez’s. After Medina-Martinez’s death, the doctor left Stewart and Shahshahani said that for more than three years, the largest detention center in the country did not have a single doctor on site to provide care to the more than 1,700 people detained at Stewart.

Shahshahani suspects that ICE is transferring women to Stewart in order to deflect attention away from the Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC), the Ocilla, Georgia, facility where a doctor named Mahendra Amin was recently found to be sterilizing detained women and performing other unnecessary gynecological procedures on them without their full and informed consent. In May 2017, Project South published a report that provided extensive documentation of abuses at both Stewart and ICDC.

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Tina Vasquez