ICE is terminating its contract with Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia. This is a victory for survivors of ICE detention and those in solidarity with them. We can and must keep fighting to shut down all ICE detention centers and to free all people incarcerated by ICE.

After years of courageous organizing and advocacy by survivors of ICE abuse and those in solidarity with them, and in the wake of overwhelming public outcry over coerced gynecological operations on Black and Brown immigrant women detained at Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has announced the end of its immigrant incarceration contract with ICDC. ICDC is run for profit by private prison company LaSalle Corrections. This is a victory for the survivors of violence at ICDC, for whistleblower Dawn Wooten—the nurse who first raised the alarm about non-consensual gynecological surgeries performed on women at ICDC—, and for those working alongside them for immigrant, racial and reproductive justice. 

Innovation Law Lab is proud to have stood alongside survivors and worked with local and national organizations to fight for justice and healing for survivors, for legal support for those still detained at ICDC and to advocate for shutting down the detention center. Ariel Prado, Law Lab’s Defend Asylum Program Director, has spent the majority of the past 8 months in Irwin, Georgia, working with a small visitation team to meet with many of the immigrant women and men who have survived horrific medical abuse and neglect inflicted by ICE and LaSalle officers while detained at ICDC, as well as retaliation for speaking out.

I’ll never forget the anger mixed with fear on Anita’s* face when she said she would love for the world to know how dangerous ICDC was, but asked if we could promise her she wouldn’t end up like her friend.

We were sitting on either side of a plexiglass window in the small white cinderblock legal visitation room at ICDC. I had just asked Anita if she might be interested in sharing her story with a delegation of U.S. Congress members who were considering coming that week.

She explained to me that her friend, Clara, had spoken out about medical negligence and that in response she was assaulted by prison guards and locked in a room alone for 14 days. Now Clara walked with a limp. You could see the pain on her face and at times her leg buckled and she would fall to the ground in agony.

Even so, Anita said, Clara wanted the women to keep fighting. “You should speak to Clara,” she told me. “She helps all of us keep fighting, even when we’re all afraid.”

When we spoke with Clara, the pain was indeed visible on her face. But she was determined to speak her truth and support the other women in speaking theirs. Justice only happens if we speak. We don’t know if by fighting we’ll win, but we do know that if we don’t fight, we will never win. 

*Anita is a pseudonym

– Ariel Prado, Innovation Law Lab

It is clear that we cannot stop here – we must continue working to shut down all ICE detention centers. We believe survivors of abuse throughout the ICE detention system. Those who remain detained at ICDC must not be transferred to other cages in ICE’s massive network. They must be released. A recent report written by Innovation Law Lab and partner organizations on systemic abuse at Otero County Processing Center in New Mexico, Process by Torment, shows that ICE detention is inherently abusive. It cannot be reformed. It must be abolished.

We envision a world where immigrants are welcomed, not incarcerated. Where we value and recognize immigrants’ contributions to our families and communities, and above all their humanity. We envision radical hospitality as an alternative to immigrant detention, where immigrants’ bodies are not seen as profit for the private prison industry.

You can join this effort by calling for ICE to release, not transfer people who are still detained at ICDC, and by reaching out to groups resisting the ICE detention center nearest to you and by calling on the elected officials who represent you at all levels of government to end their contracts with ICE and with detention centers.