With additional reporting by Matthew Cardinale.
(APN) LUMKPIN, Georgia -- Approximately 100 people gathered today, Friday, November 19, 2010, at the square in Lumpkin, Georgia to make the 1.7 mile walk to the Stewart Detention Center (SDC) where 2,000 immigrants are held.
SDC is privately owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a multi-million dollar for profit business.
The demand of the demonstrators was to bring Pedro Guzman home and shut Stewart down. Guzman has been housed at Stewart for one year without bond. His wife, Emily, and his 4-year-old son are both US citizens. Pedro came to the US with his mother when he was only 8 years old.
During the long march to the Detention Center, the names of 114 detainees who have died in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) since 2003 were called out. Two of these deaths happened at SDC.
Conditions at Stewart as cited by Georgia Detention Watch include poor or no health care, no full- time doctor, deplorable food, lack of legal resources, and few bi-lingual staff.
After the protest group reached the gates of Stewart, Emily Guzman holding her small son gave an impassioned speech about the injustice of her husband's imprisonment.
In an act of non-violent civil disobedience, seven activists crossed the line onto the prison property. Atlanta Progressive News observed as each was immediately handcuffed by the sheriff, Larry Jones, and taken to the Lumpkin jail. One additional person was arrested to make a total of eight.
Those arrested include Pamela Alberda, Emily Guzman's mother; Christin and Bryan Babcock; Anna Fisher; Anton Flores of Georgia Detention Watch, one of the protest organizers; Mary Beth Gamba; Ellen McGill; and Jules Orkin.
Flores spoke with APN on Saturday, November 20, the morning after being released.
Flores said the 8 were arrested on criminal trespass. "When we were arrested, there were eight of us, we were cuffed and taken in sheriff patrol vehicles to Stewart County sheriff's office; there they placed us holding cells."
"Stewart County doesn't have a jail. They processed us and the magistrate court judge issued a 250 dollar bond per person and we were able to pay that. We were released on bond pending prosecution," Flores said.
"It was about a 3.5 hour ordeal. Because of it being such a rural community, the magistrate judge said Superior Court is only held twice a year, in March of 2011 is the next time, and that docket is already full," Flores said.
"It may take a year, it may take two years, we may even never go court. They might just dismiss it," Flores said.
"The sheriff's department and judge were very cooperative. They were not the target of our actions. We spoke with them beforehand regarding how they would handle [the matter]," Flores said.
"Both the sheriff and judge were very surprised to hear of the length of time Pedro [Guzman] has been detained there, that he'd been here in the US since eight years old and is now married to a US citizen. They actually thought the maximum amount of time someone can be held is 90 days. It was eye-opening for them," Flores said.
"This is the fourth vigil. This is the first time of our vigil to have civil disobedience," Flores said, adding he believes it to be only the second time civil disobedience has occurred in the state in regards to immigration issues. The first had been the arrests of Joe Beasley, Markel Hutchins, Adelina Nichols, and Rich Pellegrino at the State Capitol last week, as previously covered by APN.
Also as previously reported by APN, SDC imprisons undocumented immigrants who are arrested in Georgia counties which implement the controversial 287(g) program, including Cobb, Hall, and Whitfield counties. These counties transfer thousands of immigrants to SDC every year.