Lumpkin, Georgia — Immigrants’ rights organizations El Refugio, Georgia Detention Watch, Project South and Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR) in Georgia and Detention Watch Network are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Felix Montes de Oca, 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. Felix 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 Felix'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 Felix Montes de Oca 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.”
Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition building power through collective advocacy, grassroots organizing, and strategic communications to abolish immigration detention in the United States. Founded in 1997 by immigrant rights groups, DWN brings together advocates to unify strategy and build partnerships on a local and national level. Visit detentionwatchnetwork.org. Follow on Twitter @DetentionWatch.
El Refugio provides visitation and hospitality to immigrants and asylum seekers detained at Stewart Detention Center and their loved ones. Visit elrefugioministry.org. Follow on Facebook @elrefugiostewart and Twitter @elrefugioga.
Georgia Detention Watch (GDW) is a coalition of organizations and individuals that advocate, alongside immigrants, to end the inhumane and unjust detention and law enforcement policies and practices directed against immigrant communities in our state. Our coalition includes activists, community organizers, lawyers, and persons of faith. Follow on Facebook @GeorigaDetentionWatch.
Project South is a Southern-based leadership development organization that creates spaces for movement building. We work with communities pushed forward by the struggle– to strengthen leadership and to provide popular political and economic education for personal and social transformation. We build relationships with organizations and networks across the US and global South to inform our local work and to engage in bottom-up movement building for social and economic justice. Visit projectsouth.org. Follow on Twitter @ProjectSouth.
Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights (GLAHR) educates, organizes, and empowers Latinos in Georgia to defend and advance their civil and human rights. Established in 2001, GLAHR is a community-based organization that develops statewide grassroots leadership. Visit glahr.org. Follow on Facebook @glahr.