My dad visited a detention facility in Georgia. This is what he saw.

SAALT’s Interim Executive Director Lakshmi Sridaran describes her father’s trip to the notorious Stewart Detention Center, where he met an elderly South Asian man who had been detained for years.

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Outside the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, GA.

Just before Thanksgiving, my father visited Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, GA. I was born and raised in Atlanta, but before my dad’s visit, no one in our family had ever been to Lumpkin. El Refugio, which operates a hospitality house just 1.5 miles from Stewart Detention Center, organized the visit for my dad and other members of his Rotary Club.

El Refugio was one of the many organizations that signed on to Project South’s letter demanding an investigation into this facility, which was once a prison, and still operates like one under the private ownership of the notorious Core Civic company. The letter highlights the litany of violations in this facility from medical neglect to physical abuse to forced labor. In the past two years alone, four deaths have occurred in Stewart Detention Center. The Stewart Immigration Court has the highest rate of deportation out of any immigration court in the country.

As my Dad and his group approached Stewart Detention Center in their cars, signs forbidding photography welcomed the group into the prison-like compound. The staff inside the center made everyone go through security and empty all their belongings into lockers before meeting with detained immigrants inside. Nothing was allowed — no phones, no paper, no money. Nothing. Everyone was limited to one hour inside and they were escorted by a guard who my dad described as threatening and aloof.

My dad and one of his fellow Rotary Club members were led to a small window where they were instructed to communicate through a phone on the wall.

An elderly South Asian man wearing an orange jumpsuit appeared on the other side of the glass in the visitation booth. He started speaking to my dad in English.

He told my dad he left South Asia to pursue an M.D. in the Caribbean, moved to the United States without legal status to find work, and eventually became homeless after losing his few remaining belongings in a scam, and has been detained for years.

He is one of the lucky ones who has legal representation, but he is currently awaiting an appeal on his case.

After their hour was up, the man asked “If you know of any South Asian organizations, could you please share my story?” My dad assured him that they would before saying goodbye.

My dad called me when he got home that day. He found it shocking and unsettling to see a fellow South Asian from his generation locked in a detention facility with no end in sight.

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Dr. Sridaran with fellow volunteers in the El Refugio office after the visit to the detention facility.

Last month, we shared the story of Ajay, Gurjant, Jasvir and Rajandeep, who were all released from detention in the past year after enduring inhumane conditions in a detention facility in El Paso. Just like the man detained in Stewart, they were among the thousands of South Asians who have been apprehended, many of whom are now stuck in immigration jails amid terrible conditions rather than having their cases heard and processed fairly.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Thankfully, awareness of this issue is growing. Thanks to your support, SAALT has been able to share their stories, raise these concerns to Members of Congress, demand DOJ investigations where abuses have been rampant, and alert journalists to the growing number of South Asian asylum seekers.

We just need to keep it up. Here’s how you can get involved and here’s how you can support SAALT’s advocacy efforts for detained South Asians.

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A national social justice org working on policy analysis/advocacy on issues affecting the South Asian community: immigration, post 9/11 backlash. www.saalt.org

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