By Maggie Lee
An immigrant detention center doesn’t belong in a city that calls itself “welcoming,” said activists and residents at an Atlanta City Hall hearing Wednesday. They want Atlanta to at least end the city jail’s detention contract with the federal government.
“It shouldn’t be that Atlanta, an icon of the civil rights movement, has six minutes from here a detention center. Eight minutes from the house where Martin Luther King Jr. was born, there’s ACDC,” the Atlanta City Detention Center, said Susana Peralta, a member of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights.
She was one of nearly two dozen people who spoke at the meeting of the Mayor’s Advisory Council on Immigrant Detention. All denounced immigrant detention or conditions at the jail or both.
Since 2010, Atlanta’s city jail has had a contract to rent space to the federal government to hold people detained by ICE, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. The contract is worth $78 per detainee per day to the city.
Last month, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms closed the city jail to new ICE detainees until the city receives assurances that the federal government is no longer separating children from families at the U.S. border. She didn’t want the city to risk “being complicit” in that policy. Under pressure from critics even within his own party, President Trump signed a document backing off from the policy at about the same time.
Bottoms also set up the advisory council.
Georgina Perez told the council that she was undocumented for 23 years, and was held at ACDC for half a day, seven years ago. It was rough, she said, and she can’t imagine what it’s like for people who are there for months.
She said if Atlanta’s a truly welcoming city it can’t cooperate with ICE.
“In metro Atlanta, parents are being torn away from their children,” said Perez.
“What we know is we’re in a time that we must stand our ground and we must show what side of history we’re on,” she said. One step, she said, is for Atlanta to end the jail contract.
She and others joined calls going out across the country to abolish ICE. ICE arrests, detains and deports unauthorized immigrants inside the U.S.
There are still some detainees in Atlanta’s jail; ICE also holds people in Irwin and Hall counties.
Several people spoke about bad conditions in the jail, either their own or what people inside had told them. Nelson Perdomo spoke to the council via phone from Honduras, a call scheduled by activists at Georgia Detention Watch.
“In Atlanta jail, I wasn’t very well treated,” Perdomo said via a translator. “The food was horrible, the medical treatment was also horrible, I hurt my left arm and they couldn’t give me the treatment I needed for my left arm.”
Another man complained that he couldn’t get the medicine he needed while in the jail.
The council took no action on Wednesday, they only heard testimony.
Last month, hundreds of people protested at the city jail under the banner “Families Belong Together,” one of many such events nationwide. Last year, protesters picketed against ICE at City Hall. Photographer Kelly Jordan covered both: