Durham Leaders Investigate Conditions at For-Profit Immigrant Detention Center

Earlier this month, US District Court Judge Clay Land denied a motion to dismiss a class-action lawsuit that Wilhen Hill Barrientos, Margarito Velazquez Galicia, and Shoaib Ahmed filed back in April against CoreCivic. The Tennessee-based private prison company operates the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia — one of the largest immigrant detention centers in the nation with a capacity of about 2,000.

The lawsuit filed by the men, all either current or former Stewart detainees, details overcrowding at the facility, poor bathroom conditions, and a lack of access to basic hygiene products like toilet paper, soap, and toothpaste. While detainees are forced to work for just $1 to $4 a day, CoreCivic reported earnings of over $387 million last year and contributed $250,000 to President Trump’s inaugural festivities.

Stewart detainees have also spoken out about finding worms in their food and the facility’s misuse of solitary confinement. The center’s location in a rural part of Georgia along the Alabama border makes it difficult for the immigrant detainees to obtain legal representation. As a consequence, most detainees who make it out of Stewart do so only when they are deported back to the countries that they fled from. Stewart has gained a reputation as a place that breeds hopelessness.

In order to better understand the detention and deportation process and what might await constituents who end up at Stewart, a group of six local elected officials from Durham, North Carolina — all women of color — made the eight-hour trip to Stewart on Aug. 13. The trip was organized by the office of Democratic US Rep. G.K. Butterfield, and participants included Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson, County Commissioner Brenda Howerton, school board member Natalie Beyer, and city council members Vernetta Alston, Javiera Caballero, and DeDreana Freeman.

While there, the women not only toured the…

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