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Folkstone ICE Processing Center is run by the GEO Group. Screenshot: YouTube- United States Military Domain Videos
Folkstone ICE Processing Center is run by the GEO Group. Screenshot: YouTube- United States Military Domain Videos

Activists fight back on planned expansion of Folkston ICE Processing Center in Georgia

The private-run detention center wanted to increase capacity to 1800 beds.

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On Monday, Jan. 10, PSL Atlanta, along with Community Estrella, Sur Legal Collaborative and Poder Latinx held a rally calling on President Joe Biden to shut down Folkston ICE Processing Center (FIPC) in Georgia.

The GEO Group (GEO), a private prison corporation which operates special-purpose residential centers on behalf of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), plans to expand Folkston. 

GEO is engaged in preparations to increase the facility’s capacity by 1800 beds. Added to over 1100 beds already in use, such an expansion would make the FIPC the largest ICE detention facility in the country.

“Instead of abiding by their promises of ending the use of private prisons, the administration is doubling down and expanding their use. This must stop,” wrote Azadeh Shahshahani, legal and advocacy director of Project South, on Twitter.

On Dec. 17, 2021, 21 advocacy groups, including Georgia Detention Watch, Project South, and Black Alliance for Just Immigration, called on the Biden administration to cease all negotiations and plans to expand the South Georgia center. 

“Private prison companies have a perverse incentive to maximize profit through shortchanging immigrants on basic necessities and forced labor programs. The Folkston ICE Processing Center must be shut down, not expanded,” Shahshahani said in a press release. 

Georgia has already reached a boiling point for ICE-related human rights abuses, from the horrendous number of deaths at Stewart Detention Center, to the widespread medical abuse and forced gynecological procedures exposed at Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC). 

Increasing immigration detention capacity in Georgia after ICE ended its contract with ICDC would break the promises that Biden made in July 2019 when he said he would end private detention.

“They need to shut this place down,” said Danny Lewis, a Jamaican man who was transferred to FIPC after Irwin County was forced to stop incarcerating people on behalf of ICE. “You can be dying in here, and there's no help. Folkston is worse than Irwin.”

Expanding FIPC would also conflict with Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ promise to review detention centers for abuses. Immigrant detention facilities run by the GEO Group have been exposed for having disgraceful living conditions.

In April 2020, FIPC was sued by medically vulnerable detainees during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. These individuals identified deeply worrisome human rights violations, such as unsanitary living spaces and medical neglect. FIPC has been known to have issues with pests and plumbing, poor sanitation, confinement to rooms for 22 hours a day, and medical inattention. 

“These expansion plans ignore the reports of abuse, inhumane conditions, and the President’s own words saying that private prisons ‘should not exist.’ Not only do private prisons continue to operate, but they are expanding these concentration camps,” said Nilson Barahona, Founder of ICE Breakers, who was held in ICE detention in Georgia for 13 months. 

The center is currently under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General for conditions that violate the rights of detainees. Activists say that planning to expand the center during this time of investigation is a “slap in the face” of any attempts at oversight. 

“We call on this Administration to invest in systems that center care, life, and dignity, instead of continuing to expand a system that functions to dehumanize and criminalize immigrants,'' said Phi Nguyen, Executive Director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta.

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