Southern Poverty Law Center lawyers say a large immigration detention center in South Georgia is violating detainees' rights to due process.
In a letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and CoreCivic, the private prison company that runs the facility, the legal advocacy group says the scarcity of attorney visitation rooms at Stewart Detention Center is causing unreasonable delays.
"Attorneys have been unable to get to speak with their clients because they were kept waiting in the waiting room and their clients' moment in court came and went while the attorney was still outside," SPLC attorney Lisa Graybill said.
Graybill said Stewart's practice of banning electronic devices, as well as a policy change that pushed back the hour at which meetings can begin in the mornings, slows down client meetings, which vary in length and complexity.
“If they have a complicated potential asylum claim, if they’re emotional -- as many folks who’ve been persecuted are -- it can take quite a while to get through even basic information,” Graybill said.
Stewart, which can house more than 1,700 detainees, has one of the highest deportation rates in the country. Graybill said that's why the SPLC created the Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative nearby in April.
The group says it has been coordinating and sending groups of pro bono lawyers and interpreters, but Stewart’s infrastructure, originally designed as a prison, is causing a bottleneck that limits detainees access to legal services.
“We would even be willing to provide the space,” said Graybill, pointing to examples in Texas of portable buildings being used for attorney-client meetings. “It’s doable. It doesn’t require knocking down any walls.”
In a statement, ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said Stewart has been found to be “in full compliance with federal law and agency policy.” He said attorneys should schedule appointments in advance, though the SPLC said its lawyers are already doing this.