Lumpkin, Georgia — Immigrants’ rights organizations El Refugio, Georgia Detention Watch, and Project South in Georgia and Detention Watch Network are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Felipe Montes, 57, while in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the Stewart Detention Center. Montes died due to COVID-19 related complications. His death marks the fourth time a person has died after contracting COVID-19 at the Georgia facility and the ninth death to occur in ICE custody due to COVID-19 complications. As of January 25, ICE has confirmed 8,991 cases of COVID-19 in detention since the onset of the pandemic.
The Stewart Detention Center, owned and operated by private prison corporation CoreCivic, has a well-documented record of abuse and neglect detailed in a 2017 report by Project South and the Penn State Law Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic. In the wake of the pandemic, Georgia organizations have repeatedly urged ICE and the Georgia Congressional Delegates to release detained immigrants due to the documented dangers of COVID-19 within immigration detention centers.
In December, it was revealed that Stewart has begun to also detain women.
The Biden administration has yet to address ICE’s immigration detention system, which advocates have long called to be abolished citing system-wide patterns of abuse and fatal medical neglect which have only worsened during the pandemic.
Human Rights organizations demand that the the Biden administration take urgent action to dismantle the detention system including the immediate shut down of the Stewart Detention Center and release of people from detention issued the following statements:
Amilcar Valencia, Executive Director of El Refugio, said:
“We all agree that human life is sacred and precious. Felipe was a person, a human being with dignity and purpose and he deserved to be treated as such, not to die in ICE custody. We honor Felipe’s life and mourn his senseless death. Our hearts go to his family and all those detained at Stewart and their loved ones. This is not normal. People should be released and detention centers shut down.”
Azadeh N. Shahshahani, Legal and Advocacy Director of Project South, said:
“As tragedies mount at Stewart, we renew our call for this deadly facility to be shut down. Instead of taking steps to dismantle this prison, ICE is doubling down. It is time for Congress and the Biden administration to take decisive action and shut down Stewart once and for all.”
Setareh Ghandehari, Advocacy Director of Detention Watch Network, said:
“Lives are in jeopardy in ICE custody and the tragic passing of Felipe Montes underscores why the immigration detention system must be abolished. The Biden administration must act urgently by shutting down facilities and releasing people from detention back to their families, communities and support networks until no one is in detention.”