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Rep. John Lewis Condemns Immigration Policies

June 7, 2018
Press Release

Washington, D.C. – Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) released a letter today condemning U.S. immigration policies and laying out steps Congress must take to honor American values and respect the dignity and the worth of each new American. 

In the letter, Rep. Lewis describes how policies on enforcement, detention, and courts have an especially harsh effect in Metro Atlanta.  Metro Atlanta is among the worst places to be undocumented in the United States and could become a model for future policies.

“This administration has shown time and time again its attempts to dehumanize those who seek a better, safer life here in the United States,” said Rep. Lewis.  “This assault on immigrant families and communities is a shame, a disgrace, and an outrage.

“People in Metro Atlanta and across Georgia are suffering from this administration’s cruelty, and Republicans in Congress are doing nothing to help.  I will keep doing all I can to change that and make our city, our state, and our country a welcoming place for all.”

He also condemns the administration’s recent policy of separating children from parents seeking asylum in the United States.

The letter sets benchmarks that Congress must meet to reform our immigration system:

  • Cease the increased targeting of immigrant communities through enforcement;
  • End an unjust detention system;
  • Safeguard living and working conditions for detained immigrants;
  • Review and reform immigration court protocols; and
  • Ensure the Federal government protects the most vulnerable, especially children.

Congressman Lewis wrote the Democratic Ranking Members of committees with jurisdiction over immigration policy, including Reps. Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Filemon Vela (D-TX), and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA).

During the 115th Congress, Rep. Lewis has co-sponsored more than 20 pieces of legislation and written or co-signed more than 30 letters about immigration-related issues.  A full list is available here.

A copy of the letter is available here, and the full text appears below. 

Dear Ranking Members:

I write on behalf of my constituents to express my strongest concern over immigration enforcement, detention, and court proceedings in Metro Atlanta – among the worst places in America to be undocumented. Recent developments call for increased congressional oversight and legislation.  If we fail to act, Georgia could become an unfortunate model for authorities to emulate across the country.

Congress must investigate and cease the targeting of immigrant communities through traffic stops, workplace sweeps, stakeouts, and other forms of intimidation.  Arrests of immigrants without criminal records have more than quadrupled in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina [1].  Seventeen state and local police forces in this area participate in the 287(g) program [2], and Gwinnett County, Georgia, accounts for more than one-fifth of all 287(g) arrests nationwide [3].  This trend magnifies fear and distrust in immigrant communities, households, and schools and prevents local police from building trust with the communities they serve.

In addition, Congress must end an unjust detention system that sends immigrants far from their families and friends, subordinates their well-being to the profit of others, and strips them of their rights.  While the publicly operated Atlanta City Detention Center is located in my congressional district, two of the most notorious ICE facilities in the country, Stewart and Irwin Detention Centers, are located in South Georgia and operated by private contractors.   Our nation’s detention system should comply with universal high standards, and there should be no disparity or question in respecting the human dignity and worth of any person.

Furthermore, Congress must safeguard living and working conditions for detained immigrants that honor their dignity and worth.  In Georgia, advocacy groups investigated both Stewart and Irwin and found extensive due process issues, inhumane treatment and living conditions, inadequate health care, civil rights violations, and involuntary labor practices [4].  The Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General echoed these findings [5] [6].  In April, three Stewart detainees filed a Federal lawsuit alleging forced labor for wages as low as one dollar per day, which violates Federal and State labor laws [7].  These practices may also violate the 13th Amendment. 

I strongly believe that Congress must review and reform court protocols that compromise justice for immigrants.   One of the nation’s harshest immigration courts is located in Atlanta [8].  This court grants just two percent of asylum requests – the lowest rate in the country [9] – and approves deportation relief at lower than average rates [10].  The Southern Poverty Law Center reported numerous violations in the Atlanta court of immigration court standards, which include examples of prejudice or disinterest, lack of professionalism, referrals to detainees as “prisoners”, and inadequate interpretation [11].  This makes it nearly impossible for immigrants to seek and obtain true justice.

As you know, I share your commitments to ensuring that the Federal government protects, secures, and works in the best interests of the most vulnerable – especially children and young people.  The administration’s inhumane policy of separating children from parents and detaining them for extended periods is a tactic unworthy of a nation dedicated to the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Likewise, its actions relating to Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status recipients, refugees, and others demonstrate an alarming and arbitrary cruelty in the name of security.  Congress must end these abuses and work to lift people up, not push them down.

The United States’ immigration system should reflect our nation’s commitment to justice, decency, and human rights.  Each of you recognizes that this administration persistently dehumanizes women, men, and children at every stage of our immigration system.  This relentless assault undermines our country’s legacy, promise, and moral leadership.  It is unworthy of a civilized nation built by and for immigrants.  Congress must investigate these wanton abuses of power and act to resolve these moral and humanitarian crises. 

As always, I thank you for your service and leadership on these issues during these challenging times, and I appreciate your consideration of my views and the concerns of my constituents. 



John Lewis

Member of Congress