Rep. John Lewis on Atlanta’s Cancellation of ICE Detention Contract
I applaud Mayor Bottoms’ decision to end the City of Atlanta’s contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). Our nation is facing a period that may require leaders to be strengthened by the courage of their convictions to stand up and reassert the values of our democracy. The action Mayor Bottoms took today is in keeping with Atlanta’s historic commitment to civil and human rights. It was the right thing to do.
Metro Atlanta is among the worst places in America for an undocumented immigrant, and people across Georgia suffer from a federal policy that is cruel and inhumane. Since October 2017, half of all the deaths occurring to those in ICE custody have taken place while people were detained in Georgia.
Beyond this closure, there are concerns that authorities may now send detainees even farther away from their families and support systems to detention centers in South Georgia. These businesses have no incentive to serve the public good, defend democratic principles, or respond to the cries of inhumane treatment, since profit is their central goal. And the government has much less authority to intervene because they are private interests and not public agencies. Advocacy groups as well as government investigators have discovered numerous civil rights violations, inhumane living conditions, and inadequate health care behind their walls.
I am also concerned that forced labor practices at these for-profit centers might violate the 13th Amendment. It is my hope that communities in South Georgia where these violations occur will follow the example the City of Atlanta has set today by removing the stain of injustice from our state.
Leaders must lead. They must be headlights and not taillights. I am glad the Mayor of Atlanta decided to show the way to other major cities who shelter these abuses. Our immigration system can enforce the law while it also reflects this nation’s commitment to justice and human rights. Today’s decision by Mayor Bottoms is one step towards reclaiming the dignity of our democracy. Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each of us—every citizen and every leader—must do what we can to ensure that this nation respects the dignity and the worth of every human being.