Stewart Detention Center in Georgia is owned and run by the private corporation CoreCivic, under contract with ICE. Most are migrants who had been living in North Carolina, picked up at traffic stops, check-points, or on referral from local law-enforcement or tipsters. The Raleigh News & Observer has reported that more than 40 guards at the detention center tested positive for COVID-19 in April.
Martin Rosenbluth is an immigration attorney, part of a private firm, representing detainees at Stewart. His cients come from Central America, Haiti, Bangladesh, Nepal, Venezuela, Cuba, and elsewhere.
We spoke with Rosenbluth a few days ago, right before several of his clients were released on bond. He continues to make regular trips to the facility to meet with clients, wearing his own PPE these days.
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“For weeks,” Rosenbluth said, “the detention center did not take this seriously at all. Zero of guards had masks. The maybe some had gloves. Now, they all have PPE.
“One of our clients said that when masks were delivered to the center, made for the detainees by their families, they were refused.
“Now, when I go see a client, most have masks, but not all. I have not idea how often they change the masks, and I have no idea whether it’s a show for outsiders who come to the center. People are really scared. It’s really, really clear that the fear is real. And they’re not getting tests.
“They’re afraid to be found to be sick they prefer solitary confinement, to make it less likely to be infected by other people. One problem is that most work is done by detainees, including food delivery and cleaning services. With fewer detainees in the center, more in solitary, and some clearly sick, people are being fed less, and people are being fed late.
“Parallel to the conditions day-to-day, the immigration courts are absolute pandemonium. The rules are changing all the time. Sometimes our clients come to hearings in person. Sometimes on video. Sometimes not at all. They’re not for example letting people out on immigration bond because of fear of infection – we include that on the bond application, but the judges aren’t buying that.”
Rosenbluth offers no predictions for how these problems will resolve – or whether they will resolve. Chaos contributes to the gears in our immigration system locking up, and that may prove to be the desired outcome, at least under the current administration.