Attorney: Last of immigrants at Irwin County Detention Center have been transferred

Protesters gather at a news conference Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020 in Atlanta decrying conditions at Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia.

Jeff Amy / AP Photo

The last immigrants being held at a privately-owned detention center in south Georgia have been transferred.

The Irwin County Detention Center drew international attention in 2020 as dozens of women detainees accused a doctor at the facility of performing unwanted medical procedures. But the complaints of unnecessary hysterectomies at the facility go back years. The center has also been criticized by a whistleblower for not doing enough to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In May, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced the U.S. would be ending its contract with the facility.

Atlanta-based human rights attorney Azadeh Shahshahani, the legal and advocacy director with Project South, says it’s frustrating that it took the Biden administration nearly four months to fulfil its pledge.

“What is even more frustrating and really upsetting is the knowledge that ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] knew as far back as 2018 about the medical abuse inflicted upon women’s bodies, and yet they refused to do anything,” said Shahshahani.

After the accusations surfaced in September of 2020, Shashahani says ICE was initially dismissive and then began deporting some of the women who had come forward before the agency was ordered to stop.

She says at one point, there were more than 100 immigrants detained in Irwin County. Female immigrants were transferred months ago, but about 40 male immigrants remained until this week, she said.

While she says she is “thrilled” that immigrants are now gone from Irwin, she’s troubled that some have been transferred to Stewart Detention Center, which has had its own share of troubles. Shashahani says all immigration detention centers in the country should be closed.

“The only ones who are profiting from this vast immigration detention center system are private prison corporations,” she said.

Shahshahani says they’ll continue to seek justice for victims of the doctor’s alleged abuse.