A month ago, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced she was suspending the city’s multimillion-dollar contract to house U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees.
On Wednesday afternoon, her new advisory council on the matter held a public hearing.
The public’s clear consensus? Atlanta should end its relationship with ICE. Attendees held up signs in support as people took turns at the podium.
Susana Peralta spoke. She’s a member of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights.
“The city likes to advertise itself as a welcoming city. But Atlanta, it cannot do this while having a contract with ICE,” she said.
That was a common theme: calling the city to live up to the “Welcoming Atlanta” tagline adopted by the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs.
Warren Goodwin, an Atlanta native, told the council that the city has a “moral responsibility to not be participating in this immoral ICE system.”
Former ICE detainees called in from Ghana, Honduras and Cuba complaining of verbal and medical abuse at the Atlanta City Detention Center.
Azadeh Shahshahani is the legal and advocacy director of Project South and a member of the advisory council. She said she will urge the mayor to end the contract.
“The task of [the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs] is to be welcoming to immigrants, but at the same time, the city is making a profit off the detention of immigrants, and the conditions, as we heard today, are egregious. That just doesn’t fly,” she said. “It is disturbing to know that my tax money is being paid to support this.”
Patrick Labat, who is Atlanta’s chief of corrections and on the advisory council, says he’s heard allegations like that before, but worries people aren’t getting the full story.
“It concerned me that so many people have a negative connotation of what goes on without a lot of the background, a lot of the information,” he said. “I think the reason I’m on the commission more than anything else is to be able to hear: hear people’s frustrations, albeit sometimes a little skewed, but at least to provide some clarity.”
He said he wants corrections workers to better document their work through bodycams and surveillance cameras to help tell their side of the story. Labat said they already have documentation to refute many of the allegations made at the hearing.
Labat said he hears positive feedback from families and attorneys about the Atlanta City Detention Center because it saves them trips to Stewart Detention Center or others far away in the state.
Atlanta has 77 ICE detainees now, down from about 200 before the mayor’s moratorium. The city is paid $78 per person, per day to house ICE detainees, which was more than $7 million this fiscal year.
The advisory council will meet next week behind closed doors to work on a recommendation for Mayor Bottoms.