LUMPKIN, GA (WTVM) – A News Leader 9 exclusive: Allegations of due process rights being violated at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia.
The Southern Poverty Law Center recently sending a letter to federal officials, claiming there are barriers for detainees to talk to their attorneys.
Jose Gonzalez Ochoa, a recent detainee at the facility, said he felt cramped at all times while inside that facility, but Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials told NL9 the Stewart Detention Center is subject to regular inspections and it hasn't violated federal policy.
Gonzalez, a Shaw High School graduate, who was detained and sent to the facility back in April, shared his story of sharing a small living space with dozens of other detainees.
"I was sleeping with 65 persons in the same room," he said, "and it was not a big room. It was like my living room."
Gonzalez then said he found even less space inside the facility, he says, to talk one-on-one with his attorney.
"It's really complicated because you cannot actually talk with your lawyer if there are lots of people hearing you," he said.
"This is bad. How am I going to talk with my lawyer if everybody's going to hear this?" he said.
While Jose was still detained, the Southern Poverty Law Center reached out to the detention center's officials, to set up a pro-bono project for representing current detainees.
"We expressed concerns about some of the issues that are raised in the letter," said Naomi Tsu, deputy legal director for the SPLC, "and asked to be able to work with them to improve access."
Tsu said those conversations are continuing, but that the advocacy group has had problems ever since the talks started.
In a letter dated July 13, the SPLC sent a letter to top Immigration and Customs Enforcement Officials, as well as the warden of the Stewart Detention Center.
In that letter, the group claims several practices at the facility are "in violation of detainees due process rights."
Among the supposed violations, that the center is "remotely located" from the majority of legal resources in Georgia.
In addition, their observation that the detention center has only "three attorney visitation rooms" for over 1900 detainees.
News Leader 9 reached out to ICE several times recently to get reaction to this letter. The agency sent back a statement that reads, in part, that the SPLC has "provided absolutely no evidence to support its claim, and the available facts flatly contradict their allegation."
ICE's statement below also reads that an independent third-party group found Stewart's legal visitation policies are in full compliance with federal law and agency policy.
Gonzalez told NL9 he was able to communicate with his attorney via Skype and video call while inside the detention center.