Lumpkin, Georgia — Today the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the death of Cipriano Chavez-Alvarez, 61, who died from COVID-19 early Monday morning after being detained at the Stewart Detention Center (Stewart) in Georgia. Chavez-Alvarez is the third person to die from COVID-19 this year at the facility where there have been over 330 total confirmed COVID-19 cases. Georgia Detention Watch, Project South, El Refugio, and Detention Watch Network are demanding Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conduct an expedited death review, while also calling on the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General to immediately begin an on the ground, independent and transparent investigation.
This news comes just over a month after the preventable death of Jose Freddy Guillen Vega who died of COVID-19 complications while in ICE custody after being detained at Stewart, and a week after shocking whistleblower revelations were brought forth in a complaint by Dawn Wooten at the Irwin County Detention Center, also in Georgia just over 100 miles away from Stewart. Both detention centers are operated by private prison corporations.
The Stewart Detention Center and the Irwin County Detention Center have well-documented records of abuse and neglect detailed in a 2017 report by Project South and the Penn State Law Center for Immigrants’ Rights Clinic. Since 2017, seven people have died in ICE custody after being detained at Stewart.
Local and national organizations demanding the immediate shut down of the Stewart Detention Center and Irwin County Detention Center issued the following statements:
Azadeh N. Shahshahani, Legal and Advocacy Director of Project South, said:
"As we mourn another tragedy at the deadly Stewart Detention Center, we ask decision makers what else it would take to shut down this horrid prison. We demand immediate action before the loss of additional human life."
Monica Whatley, member of Georgia Detention Watch, said:
“Mr. Chavez-Alvarez’s death could have been avoided. We are saddened to learn of his death under any circumstance, and we are also angered to know that he died of a preventable infection due to ICE's willful neglect during this pandemic. Georgia Detention Watch has every reason to believe our contacts inside the facility when they say that the only solution to prevent another death is to #FreeThemAll.”
Anton Flores-Maisonet, Founder of Casa Alterna, said:
"I pray God grants Cipriano Chavez-Alvarez the peace that ICE's Stewart detention center never afforded him."
Amilcar Valencia, Executive Director of El Refugio, said:
“Cipriano’s death is another tragedy at the Stewart detention center, which has notoriously poor medical care and living conditions. His death, like so many others who die in ICE custody, was preventable, and yet, no one holds ICE accountable. We demand a full investigation and the release of people in detention.”
Silky Shah, Executive Director of Detention Watch Network, said:
“As we wait for more details to come to light, we know unequivocally that no one is safe in ICE custody. This is an arbitrary and xenophobic system designed to profit off of immigrants even at the expensive of someone’s life. The alarming death toll in ICE custody underscores the urgent need to abolish the immigration detention system in its entirety.”