Detainees, Advocates Concerned About COVID-19 Spread In Ga. Immigration Detention Centers

This article features our client Dawn Wooten and was originally published here.

As COVID-19 cases rise in the state, advocates and detainees in Georgia continue to raise concerns about the spread of COVID-19 in immigration detention centers.

Since May, three immigrant detainees have died in Georgia after testing positive for COVID-19.

A detainee, who refers to herself as Pilar, says enough isn’t being done at the Irwin County Detention Center in South Georgia. She didn’t want to give her real name for fear of retribution.

She says she shares a pod with up to 11 other women. Though she gets masks and hand sanitizer, she says it’s nearly impossible to social distance.

“Basically, I created a mask for my bunk bed,” she says in an interview with WABE. “I keep a blanket on each side of my bed,” she says.

In September, a coalition of advocates filed a complaint against the company LaSalle Corrections, which operates the Irwin facility. The complaint was based on statements by whistleblower Dawn Wooten, a nurse at Irwin who raised concerns about questionable medical procedures given to detainees.

The medical director of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Health Service Corps said in a statement in September, “the accusations will be fully investigated by an independent office, however, ICE vehemently disputes the implication that detainees are used for experimental medical procedures.”

The complaint by the advocates also calls for an investigation into the medical treatment of detainees around COVID-19.

Pilar says she’s concerned about her health.

“Some of us have preexisting conditions, which make us more susceptible to death,” she says.

U.S. House Democrats, including Hank Johnson of Georgia’s 4th District, have called for an investigation into the facility.

There have been about 500 cumulative cases of COVID-19 among detainees in detention centers in the state. The three COVID-19-related deaths occurred at Stewart Detention Center in South Georgia.

ICE has maintained that it is committed to the health and welfare of those in custody.