Two Arrested at Stewart Detention Center, One at Fort Benning
(APN) FORT BENNING, Georgia — On Friday, November 18, 2011, Chris Spicer from Chicago, Illinois, was arrested at Stewart Detention Center for crossing the police barricade in an act of civil disobedience. Spicer recently finished serving a six-month sentence for crossing the line, literally, at the 2010 Vigil to Close the School of the Americans.
Wayne Ammons, Chief Magistrate Judge in Stewart County, Georgia, set Spicer’s bond extremely high at 5,000 dollars.
“I cross the line because I want to close the SOA, I want to close Gitmo [US prisons in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba], and I want to close Stewart Detention Center,” Spicer said.
The School of the Americas changed its name to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, but activists still refer to it as SOA.
Anton Flores, Georgia Detention Watch organizer, was wrongfully arrested for trespassing after media and legal observers left the detention area.
Despite video evidence proving Anton did not trespass, the police refused to stop harassing him; and only after the evidence was presented to Judge Ammons were his charges dismissed.
On Sunday, November 20, Theresa Cusimano, 43, from Colorado was arrested for crossing onto WHINSEC property at Fort Benning. According to SOA Watch, she was also arrested in 2008 as part of the annual SOA protest.
At the fifth annual protest of the Stewart Detention Center run by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the country’s largest private corrections company, about three hundred people called for the “Georgia Gulag” to be shut down.
Advocates raised concerns about reports of inhumane conditions inside the facility and the suffering of the inmates’ wives and children, as well as the immorality of CCA, who, as previously reported by APN, helped write and lobby for the laws that resulted in even more immigrants being incarcerated.
The detention center is located in a remote, isolated area hours from the nearest hospital.
As reported earlier by APN, Georgia Detention Watch (GDW) says that conditions at Stewart include poor or no health care, no full-time doctor, deplorable food, lack of legal resources, and few bi-lingual staff. Two detainees have died at Stewart from lack of medical treatment.
“Stewart Detention Center has over 1,800 people detained and they are making a profit of between 120 to 160 dollars per person per day. They are benefiting from the pain and suffering of individuals who have done nothing wrong but search for a better life,” Eva Cardenas with the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR) said.
Between the five corporations with ICE contracts for which official federal lobbying records are currently available, the total expenditure on lobbying for 1999-2009 was 20,432,000 dollars.
Corporations lobbied the US House of Representatives, the Senate, and the US Department of Homeland Security, the agency that oversees Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Larger corporations, including CCA and another prison firm called GEO, lobbied a variety of entities related to immigration policy, including the US Department of Justice, the Bureau of Prisons, and the Office of Management and Budget, according to Detention Watch Network.
In addition to the over twenty million dollars in lobbying money spent on the federal level, eleven Georgia state senators and seventeen state represenatives received a total of 24,400 dollars in campaign contributions from CCA in 2009 and 2010. The politicians who received CCA funds voted overwhelmingly for Georgia’s controversial HB 87.
“Immigrants are workers and they are here because they can’t make a living in their home country anymore. They are here because they are being displaced by policies of the US government, like trade agreements, war, and intervention,” Alejandra Juarez, Immigrant Rights Organizer with Alliance for Just Immigration Policy of Northern California, said.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has led to over 1.3 million Mexican farmers losing their livelihood. When NAFTA removed tariffs, corn and other grains were exported to Mexico below cost and rural Mexican farmers could not compete. It has also caused a decline in labor protection and degradation of the environment in Mexico.
Bryan Holcomb, a former employee of CCA’s Stewart Detention Center, who has now turned whistleblower, claims that “between CCA and ICE everything is covered up.”
“Stewart Detention has a 99 percent deportation rate and it was actually built with undocumented labor. ICE declined to arrest those people because they did not want to embarrass CCA or themselves. We had a corporate audit and Stewart had the lowest audit score of any CCA facility in the history of CCA,” Holcomb said.
Stewart is the prison where thousands of Latino immigrants are held for deportation, most of them for minor traffic violations, in part due to Georgia’s repressive HB 87 and Alabama’s even more repressive HB 56. The exodus of Latino workers from the South has been hurting the economy here as farmers are unable to harvest all their crops.
“I want to say this to CCA, the Georgia and Alabama legislators, and to ICE. You have already lost because there are many of us who believe in justice, equity, love, and life. The haters and the exploiters, you are gasping your last breath. These extreme laws, oppression, and violence are evident of your dying breath. A new day is coming,” Xochitl Bervera with GLAHR predicted.
Following the speeches, supporters and family members marched a mile and half to Stewart Detention Center. They carried a clothesline hung with over 900 orange and blue shirts, each bearing the name of an immigrant from Dalton, Georgia, who had been detained or deported within the last year.
Others carried signs, “My Husband was Sold to CCA for $122.00 per day x 40 Days = $4,800.00,” “My Dad is Not for Sale,” “Brown is Not a Crime,” and “No More Profits off our Pain.”
At the Detention Center, Rev. Kenneth Glasgow, brother of Rev. Al Sharpton, explained the close relationship between business interests and lawmakers within the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). It was ALEC who inspired and who financially supports the immigration bills, and CCA is one of ALEC’s largest corporate members.
“This mass incarnation of immigrants is the new Jim Crow. We are here today to tell CCA that we are not going to allow you to re-enact slavery all over again,” Rev. Glasgow said.
“The Methodist Church has made it very clear that it is immoral to profiteer off of those behind bars. The Presbyterian Church says that we need legislation on the federal level to ban all for profit private prisons. The Southern Catholic Bishops has issued a statement calling for an end to all for profit private prisons,” Father Les Schmidt with Glenmary Home Missioners in Virginia said.
“My husband, Pedro, was detained for 597 days at Stewart Detention Center. CCA , the business that runs this detention center, profited almost sixty thousand dollars off my husband. That money came from the federal government and our tax dollars. During this time my son, Logan; myself; and Pedro suffered greatly from our separation,” Emily Guzman said.
On May 17, Pedro Guzman was released and his four year old son, Logan, asked, “Are all the Mommies and Daddies getting out too?” according to Emily Guzman.
“So many other immigrants are still unjustly detained. Most cannot fight because the system is not set up for justice, it is set up to get as many immigrants out of the country as possible. The system is broken and based on fear. Our family is free but we will keep speaking out until every family is free,” Emily said.
Pedro Guzman told the crowd the treatment in Stewart was inhumane, the food was bad, and detainees receive little legal help. The CCA guards showed no respect for anyone, there was always a threat of loss of your privileges for food, phone cards, or recreation; or of lock down.
“After twenty months away from home, you lose faith, you feel worthless, this place breaks you, it is made to break your soul,” Guzman said.