ATLANTA -- Multiple human rights organizations are joining together to demand the closure of immigration detention centers in Georgia following the deaths of two people in custody over the course of a week.
The group, which is composed of Georgia Detention Watch, the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR), Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Project South and the Detention Watch Network, are responding after the deaths of Atul Kumar Babubhai Patel and Jean Carolos Jimenez-Joseph while detained.
They report that 27-year-old Jimenez-Joseph was found dead after 19 days in solitary confinement at Stewart Detention Center. The death was reported as a suicide. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reports that he was initially arrested in North Carolina on a felony larceny of a motor vehicle.
The next day, 58-year-old Patel died in ICE custody at Grady Memorial Hospital after being detained at Atlanta City Detention Center. His cause of death was listed as complications from congestive heart failure. ICE reports he was being held after being denied entry into the country for not having the necessary immigration documents.
Now the combined organizations are calling for the closure of all detention immigration centers in the state.
“The deaths of Jean Carlos Jimenez-Joseph and Atul Kumar Babubhai Patel are an unfortunate illustration of the poor medical treatment, misuse of isolation, deplorable health conditions and the unnecessary detention of persons looking for a place of refuge” said Adelina Nicholls, executive director of GLAHR.
The group said that recent reports have shown that the facilities, specifically Stewart Detention Center and Irwin County Detention Center, are "not equipped to handle the vast mental and physical needs of those they incarcerate."
“As our year-long documentation demonstrated, Georgia immigration detention centers are rife with human rights abuses including the rampant use of solitary confinement, minimal access to mental health care, and inedible food," said Azadeh Shahshahani, legal and advocacy director with Project South. "These facilities must be shut down before we see even more horrific tragedies unfold."
Members of the organizations are also calling for the disbanding of ICE due to treatment of detainees. However, the agency has maintained that it has not increased detainment in recent months and that its efforts are aimed at those who already have criminal records.
Officials also deny claims of poor conditions in their facilities.
"While any fatality in ICE custody is unfortunate and is subject to a full investigation, the two recent fatalities referenced during this protest are the first in ICE custody in Georgia in more than 6 years," ICE spokesperson Brian Cox said pointing back to Bureau of Justice statistics. "Deaths in ICE custody, statistically, are exceedingly rare and occur far less frequently that the detained population as a whole across the United States."
Cox also responded to the groups' claims directly adding that they were already calling for an end to ICE detention as a whole and an end to immigration enforcement. He said their protests were not prompted by the recent deaths.
"U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) fully respects the rights of all people to voice their opinion peacefully without interference," Cox said. "As Secretary Kelly has stated, ICE will continue to enforce our nation’s laws to protect public safety, national security, and to preserve the integrity of our immigration system."
With Patel's death, the number of deaths in ICE custody has increased to eight for the year nationwide. However, ICE reports that in 2016, they had an estimated 2.6 deaths per 100,000 detainees - 100 times less than the national average.
"That context is not intended to diminish the significance of the specific recent incidents," Cox said. "I simply provide it for important context about just how rare fatalities are in ICE custody."