Looking in from the outside, Atlanta seems to be the place for diversity. It is the birthplace of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement. We have a museum dedicated to Civil and Human rights. And yet, as covered in an earlier Better Georgia blog post, Atlanta is the worse place to be an undocumented immigrant.
The city of Lumpkin is home to the privately owned Stewart Detention Center. The facility holds around two thousand immigrants from different countries and legal statuses. Detainees are held there until their case is brought up in court, which often takes months. In the meantime, they have to deal with the horrible treatment at the facility. Detainees are fed meals consisting largely of potatoes for breakfast, lunch and dinner, they’re thrown in solitary confinement on a whim and they’re charged exorbitant amounts of money for “luxury items” like cookies.
The length of an immigrant’s stay at the detention depends on their ability to find an immigration lawyer willing and able to take the case. Currently, the United States has 485,000 pending cases in its immigration courts and there are less than 260 immigration judges nationwide. In Atlanta, there are five immigration courts with judges who do not specialize in immigration. They deny asylum 98 percent of the time, while the nationwide average is 49 percent.
These judges hear heart-wrenching stories from immigrants — children and adults who are escaping violence and poverty or who have lived the U.S. for the majority of their lives. The Atlanta judges could not care less about the lives these people have lived. They bully and belittle detainees as they are pleading for their lives.
The immigration court system in Georgia is broken, to say the least.
The judges are ill-equipped to handle the cases. They don’t understand immigration or the rights of detainees. The number of cases are out of control because the state actively targets children escaping violence and they feel the need to keep the detention center filled to keep the private owners happy. Immigration lawyers have a hard time keeping up with unwinnable and time-consuming cases. The state needs to find a solution and fast. It owes it to the people who are simply trying to flee poverty and violence in search of the American Dream.