|The Stewart Detention Center and the School of the Americas: Imperialism and Pain Profiting in Georgia|
|Written by SOA Watch|
|Wednesday, 04 December 2013 16:15|
From November 22 through the 24, we held the 23rd annual School of the Americas Vigil in Columbus, Georgia. November 22 also marked the 7th annual Shut Down Stewart Detention Center Vigil in nearby Lumpkin, Georgia. It was the sixth year in which large numbers of SOA Watch activists have participated in the Stewart Vigil, which has become the first event during the School of the Americas Vigil. This year once again saw a moving rally, march, and vigil in which the reprehensible treatment of migrants in the U.S. was made painfully evident to the over 300 protesters in attendance. We sang, we laughed, we cried, and we raised our voices in unison to say "!Ya Basta!" "Enough!" to the incarceration of migrants.
Corrections Corporations of America (CCA) is the largest for-profit prison company in the U.S. CCA is the owner of the Stewart Detention Center, which is the largest immigrant prison in the country. The fact that CCA and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) warehouse almost 2,000 men in Stewart simply for seeking a better life for themselves and their families is infuriating enough. That they do so for profit is immoral. But that is only the tip of the iceberg of the injustice occurring in Lumpkin and other private and public immigrant prisons across the country.
Stewart detainees are, by all accounts other than those of ICE and CCA, kept in inhumane conditions. Georgia Detention Watch (GDW) is the local coalition that organizes the Stewart Detention Vigil. According to Everitt Howe, a member of GDW, "The severity of the conditions in the facility strikes everyone who enters. We know we only see a fraction of what goes on inside." This is not a coincidence in the private prison industry. CCA makes more money by cutting on detainee medical services, food, amenities, recreation, as well as employee training and benefits. Not only does CCA profit from incarcerating migrants, but it also profits by forcing them to endure through horrendous conditions such as those inside Stewart.
"You only hide what you are ashamed of"
Protesters were not allowed on the land where the Stewart immigrant prison is located. We were not even allowed to see the building in which these men are confined. CCA and local law enforcement agencies cordoned off the entrance and placed the large buses utilized to take the detained migrants to their deportation flights in front of the detention center, making the building impossible to see for those in attendance. As Anton Flores of GDW and Alterna put it, "you only hide what you are ashamed of." Ultimately, the executives and shareholders of CCA are profiteers of human suffering and they are ashamed of their role in this unjust system. Only they are not ashamed enough to give up their lucrative arrangements. Similarly, the Pentagon and other supporters of the School of the Americas (SOA/WHINSEC), proclaim that they are proud of that institution, yet they cover up the sign to Fort Benning every year during the vigil. They also do everything in their power to hide the names of SOA/WHINSEC graduates.
Despite CCA and local law enforcement's attempts at obfuscation, we were able to bear witness to the suffering occurring just meters away by listening to people that have experienced the foul innards of the Stewart Detention Center. One speaker was a former employee who stated that "you cannot work there without losing your humanity." Another was the wife of a former detainee. A self-described "small town Georgia girl" and "lover of the South" she stated that her family will be leaving Georgia as soon as they are able to afford it due to the nightmare that ICE and CCA put them through in Lumpkin. She described how her Latino husband, imprisoned for eight months even though he had committed no crime, was released looking emaciated and grey. His skin was literally grey, a result of the poor health and dietary conditions that detainees must endure at Stewart.
Lumpkin is one of the poorest towns in Georgia. It is 70% black, and unemployment is rampant. Yet Stewart does not even create many living wage jobs for local residents - one of the few shallow and insufficient justifications that proponents of immigrant prisons utilize when confronted with the immorality of detaining migrants. No Lumpkin resident is hired to work in the kitchen. No Lumpkin resident is hired to clean and maintain the facility. That is because CCA "pays" the detained migrants to do that work $1-3 a day. Not $1-3 an hour, but $1-3 a day. Stewart detainees and other migrants around the country are criminalized for working without authorization in the U.S., arrested, deprived of their freedom, and then paid slave wages in prison for the profit of CCA.
No one at CCA or ICE has responded to Anton Flores' questioning of the cruel irony of this arrangement. But the reason is clear. The money "saved" goes to CCA shareholders. The money "saved" from immigrant labor goes to the executives that run the Stewart Detention Center and CCA.
There are so many migrants deported from Stewart Detention Center that an immigration court was built inside CCA's prison. There, 3 judges decide whether to release Stewart detainees on bond before they ultimately decide whether they are allowed to stay in the country. It was recently revealed that one of the immigration judges at Stewart, Dan Trimble, is now on the Board of Visitors of the SOA/WHINSEC. A judge who regularly denies bond (which adds to CCA's coffers) and orders the deportation of migrants inside one of the worst immigrant detention centers in the U.S. is also a public supporter and board member of another heinous institution 40 miles away. The SOA/WHINSEC, it's trainers and graduates have inflicted so much death and destruction on the people of Latin America, maintaining and exacerbating the social and economic conditions that force many Latin Americans to become migrants in search of a peaceful life. Some of them end up in Stewart, perhaps after being racially profiled and arrested for driving without a license. And some of them are then ordered deported by Judge Trimble.
Stewart Detention Center representatives refused to speak with media or the protesters before and during the vigil. Similar to the supporters of the SOA/WHINSEC, they may at times claim that they are proud of what they are accomplishing inside the prison, yet their shame is evident. There are more and more of us that know of what happens inside Stewart and the reasons for it - who suffers and who profits. Like members of the movement to close the School of the Americas, immigrants and allies will continue to protest and bear witness at Stewart until that shameful institution is closed. In Columbus, in Lumpkin, and across the continent, we will continue to make clear that the lives of migrants, the lives of Latin Americans, and the lives of their families and loved ones matter. We will not be moved!
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