There are reports of drug smuggling, suicides, and mixing asylum seekers with convicted criminals.
By Richard N. Williams
Sojourners Magazine (March 2019 Issue)
AT 146 CCA ROAD in Lumpkin, Ga., sits the Stewart Detention Center, one of the nation’s largest immigrant holding facilities. It’s also a multimillion-dollar revenue-generating business. The nearly 2,000-bed facility, originally built as a medium-security prison, is owned and operated by CoreCivic (formerly known as the Corrections Corporation of America), the second largest private prison firm in the United States.
Private detention centers, such as Stewart, are major sources of revenue for the private prison industry. CoreCivic is currently trading on the New York Stock Exchange with market capitalization of more than $2.36 billion. The private corrections industry, according to a 2017 Mother Jones article, has received endorsements from then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and President Donald Trump. The industry’s stocks soared after the president’s executive order to expand the purview of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. With billions in revenue being generated and a government not relenting from its war against undocumented immigrants, private detention centers such as Stewart seem to be here for the long haul.
Private detention centers, such as Stewart, are major sources of revenue for the private prison industry.
Stewart is plagued with “chronic shortages,” especially in its medical facility. There are reports of drug smuggling, suicides, and mixing asylum seekers with convicted criminals. Between 2007 and 2012, only 6 percent of detainees at Stewart received legal counsel during their immigration process; only 4 percent were granted asylum. Most undocumented immigrants at Stewart will spend their only time in the U.S. locked up with hardened criminals, subjected to inhumane treatment.
On my visit, I met with a detained asylum seeker. We sat across from each other, separated by bulletproof plastic and concrete block, talking over a phone line. He told me that in his home country he had been a political official; when his government was overthrown, he became an enemy of the new regime. He fled with his family to the U.S., but they were separated at the California border.
In our short conversation we bonded as husbands and fathers, but also as Christians. He admitted to crippling depression and grief, and said that he prays every day. He told me he prayed earlier in the week for someone to visit him, to take his mind off his plight. Though we were from different parts of the world, we both knew the Lord’s Prayer, and so we prayed it together. As we prayed, the hellhole was transformed into holy ground.
Placing profits above people
In April 2018, a class-action suit was filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of current and former detained immigrants. “CoreCivic is placing profits above people by forcing detained immigrants to perform manual labor for next to nothing, saving millions of dollars that would otherwise provide jobs and stimulate the local economy,” said Meredith Stewart, senior attorney for the center. “CoreCivic is padding its pockets by violating anti-trafficking laws.”
Detainees who refuse to work in CoreCivic’s “dollar a day” forced-labor scheme are threatened with solitary confinement, according to the lawsuit, and the loss of access to food, clothing, phone calls, and other necessities, in violation of federal anti-trafficking laws.
On my visit, I saw not a criminal or a gang member (as some people stereotype immigrants) but a God-fearing man who, if granted asylum, would become another thread in the diverse fabric of America. Though treated terribly by the system, he still speaks glowingly of the possibility of this country. He still believes the potential to be a U.S. citizen is worth all that his family has endured.