“You are important…..to CCA”. As we approach the entrance to the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, the first signs we see are brightly lettered installations declaring how important we are to the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).
There is a chilling irony in this cheery welcome. In a for-profit prison that holds 2,000 immigrant men on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security, there are motivational posters scattered across the entrance walls. Corporate declarations of how important quality work and ‘customer service’ are to CCA. In the midst of barbed wire fences, gun bearing guards, and family members waiting for their 60 minute, glass-mediated visit with a loved one, these polished statements seem darkly laughable and out of place.
Exactly who is important to CCA? CCA is one of the central players in the corporate prison industry and in the last decade, immigration detention has brought this corporate giant back from the brink of insolvency. With regular reports of poor conditions and abuse inside these detention centers, it is clear that the immigrants being held by CCA and other corrections corporations have become a commodity to profit from rather than vulnerable individuals seeking a better life for their families.
Our visit to Stewart Detention center was our first stop on a week-long learning trip facilitated by Anton Flores-Maisonet of the Alterna. Alterna has been monitoring and protesting the Stewart Detention Center for a number of years and now runs a hospitality house near the prison where families can stay while visiting loved ones detained within.
As part of our visit, we had the opportunity to visit men in Stewart whose family members could not come visit in person. We also had the chance to meet Emily Guzman and her son Logan as they waited for yet another bond hearing for Emily’s husband Pedro.
Pedro’s story is a tragic example of the injustice being wrought by the American government, not only against newcomers to this nation, but also against its own citizens. Pedro was brought to this country without documentation by his mother when he was 8 years old. The very short version of his story is that a couple of years ago his mother was deported and unbeknownst to him, his immigration status was tied to her status. By this time, Pedro was married to an American citizen, they had a son and he was working here with appropriate visa documentation. When his mother was deported, the government sent him a notice requiring him to appear in court,
but they sent it to the wrong address. When he missed his court date, they sent him a notice of deportation, again to the wrong address. Soon ICE officers were banging down their door, and eventually Pedro was arrested and the Guzman family’s long separation began.
We were honoured to journey alongside Emily and Logan even just for a day. As we waited for Pedro’s bond hearing to begin, watched as Emily was informed that his hearing had been delayed (even though Emily had driven from North Carolina for this event), we caught a glimpse of the torturous and infuriating life they now live. Emily has shown great resilience and resourcefulness and has become a fiery advocate for immigrant rights (see www.logansdad.com for more of their story) but there is no question that this has taken a devastating toll on their family.
I don’t believe that many Americans are aware of the many issues surrounding the immigration detention industry – or that such an industry even exists. Are we aware that corporate executives from companies like CCA are responsible for crafting anti-immigrant bills such as SB1070 in Arizona in order to ensure continued profits?
Our group was inspired by the many Christians (and others!) we met in Georgia who are resisting the dehumanization of the immigration system and who echo Moses’ cry: “Let my people go!”. Our collective challenge is to find our own place in this work – as we seek to love the stranger and sojourner in our land.
Written by Tamara Shantz, former campus pastor at Goshen College (IN). In March, Shantz traveled to Georgia with students from GC to learn about immigration issues.