Atlanta – A vigil called by a coalition of civil rights organizations on behalf of families of immigrants deprived of their freedom at the Stewart Detention Center in southern Georgia ended Saturday with the arrest of two activists.
Anton Flores, director of the Alterna organization, and another activist, identified only as Chris, were arrested for supposedly crossing into prison territory without authorization, something denied by the former, who was freed after charges against him were dropped.
Under the slogan "No More Profits Off Our Pain," activists and relatives of prisoners protested in Lumpkin, Georgia, about the way these privately run, for-profit detention centers are operated and demanded that they be closed down.
"Just look at the pain caused to communities in Georgia by those who make money out of immigrant arrests," Azadeh Shahshahani, director of the Georgia branch of the National Security and Immigrants Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, told Efe.
With banners asking President Barack Obama to suspend the deportations, activists and prisoners' families marched to the Stewart Detention Center to denounce the impact that breaking up families has on the children of detainees.
"This is an unjust situation and we believe that now is the time to end this obligatory jailing of immigrants, when so often there is no reason for arresting them," the activist told Efe.
The privately run Stewart Detention Center holds close to 2,000 immigrants and is the biggest of its kind in the United States.
A case-by-case analysis found that Lumpkin County has the highest proportion of deportations in the United States - 98.8 percent.
The activists also demanded better treatment for prisoners, who in many cases say that they are refused medication and treatment when they get sick.
According to a report by Georgia Watch Detention, the Stewart Detention Center violates some of the standards set by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, such as denying food and medicine to detainees as punishment.
The coalition has repeatedly expressed its opposition to for-profit corporations running detention centers like this.
According to a report by the coalition of civil rights organizations, The Detention Watch Network (DWN) reported in 2011 that private companies manage close to 49 percent of detention centers for undocumented immigrants in the country, and three companies with ICE contracts spent more than $20 million on lobbying between 1999 and 2009.
According to the coalition, the private prison industry has focused its efforts on gaining greater influence over immigration policies and legislation.
According to DWN data, over the past five years the number of immigrants and the cost of their detention have doubled, with 383,524 detained in 2009 at a cost of $1.7 billion - an average of $122 a day for each one.