Gadsden, AL among the 10 worst immigrant detention centers in the United States

Challen Stephens
al.com

GADSDEN, Alabama – The buttons inside the elevator do not work. Guards in a distant control room watch through cameras and guide the car to the upper level, where doors open onto the locked vestibule outside Unit 10.

On the other side of a pair of steel doors wait more than 100 federal detainees, immigrants shipped to an Alabama jail while they wait on judgment or deportation or maybe release.

In general, illegal immigrants are either deported or let go with 360 days. But Gadsden is home to long-term detainees from all over the nation, ones who do not fit neatly and easily into the system. Some are stateless, some seeking political asylum. There is no time limit on detention for individuals who refuse to sign the paperwork necessary to be deported. There is no time limit on detention while appealing to the Board of Immigration Appeals.

A man from Uzbekistan approaches. In spotty English he says he has spent 20 months locked up in Etowah County. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not allow for interviews with individual detainees without prior consent, although members of the media were given access to the general population during a tour Tuesday.

“We are not criminals, not murderers,” said another inmate, approaching members of the media. “The conditions are awful.” The man immediately referred to the food. Many more would do the same throughout the day. In July, the immigrant population held a hunger strike and 100 detainees signed a protest letter saying the food was at times rotten and nutritionally inadequate.

The Detention Watch Network, a national coalition of religious groups, last month labeled Gadsden as among the 10 worst immigrant detention centers in the United States, saying the facility should be immediately shuttered.

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