U.S. immigration officials announced Friday that they would stop using the Etowah County Detention Center, in Gadsden, to house detainees.
The decision was based on the jail having “serious deficiencies,” according to a press release from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The Etowah County Detention Center, which houses the county’s jail and the federal detention area, has come under a litany of complaints for decades. The complaints have included physical conditions at the jail, improper actions by personnel and inadequate health care.
Etowah County Sheriff Jonathon Horton told the Gadsden Times that the news came as a shock to him. “It was just a bombshell,” Horton told the Times. He also said ICE just this week notified him it would be sending 135 more detainees to the jail.
The detention center, where the county has its jail as well as the federal detention area, has come under a litany of complaints for decades. The complaints have included physical conditions at the jail, improper actions by personnel and inadequate health care. Read more.
BirminghamWatch’s Virginia MacDonald explored complaints about the Etowah County Detention Center in this 2019 report:
The Birmingham City Council has approved an agreement between the city’s police department and U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement that would deputize several BPD officers as customs officers for ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations jurisdiction.
The agreement was approved unanimously despite tense opposition from several advocacy groups worried that it could lead to more deportations in the city and give ICE too much power.
The agreement — a continuation of a previous 3-year deal — went before the council Nov. 2 but was delayed due to councilors’ concerns that it would require the police officers involved to participate in the deportation and removal of undocumented Birmingham residents. Read more.
The Birmingham City Council has delayed approval of an agreement with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement that would appoint several city police officers as customs officers for ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations jurisdiction.
The 3-year deal would provide for the continuation of a previously established task force that District 2 Councilor Hunter Williams said is focused on “combating both human trafficking and large-scale narcotics operations in the city of Birmingham.”
Mayor Randall Woodfin asserted that the agreement would not result in deportations or administrative removal of any undocumented Birmingham residents.
“I have stated on a pretty consistent basis that the city of Birmingham does not have any interest in doing the federal government’s job, but there’s something more powerful than words, and that’s, like, your actions,” Woodfin said. “We’re not here to do the job of deportation.”
But the association with ICE — and the unclear wording of the ordinance — left both advocates and councilors dubious of the proposal. Read more.
Alabama can be daunting for newcomers, especially when there are cultural and language barriers. More than 20 years ago, Isabel Rubio founded the Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama to assist Latinos who migrate to the state and to push for economic equality, civic engagement and social justice. Last month, Rubio announced she would step down as CEO of the organization at the end of the year.
WBHM’s Janae Pierre spoke with Rubio about her time leading HICA, who discussed how Alabama’s Latino community has changed over the years, the effect of the state’s immigration law, and her proudest moments with HICA.
A coalition of about 100 organizations nationwide delivered petitions to Regions Bank headquarters in Birmingham on Thursday asking the bank to not do business with companies that run private prisons and immigrant detention centers.
Also Thursday, the group, functioning under the banner of Families Belong Together, delivered similar petitions to Citizens Bank in Providence, Rhodes Island, and to Pinnacle and Synovus Banks in Nashville.
Families Belong Together along with shareholders, policymakers and investors already have been the catalysts in persuading the banks to withhold about $2.4 billion in lines of credit and loans to private prison businesses. Read more.
Two migrant workers arrested by immigration officers in Homewood last month were released on bond Wednesday following fund-raising and petition drives by Adelante Alabama Worker Center.
Marcos Baltazar, a member of the Adelante board of directors, and his son, Juan, 18, spent the month in detention facilities at the Etowah County Jail in Gadsden and in Jena, La.
Both facilities have been cited by human rights groups for their inhumane treatment of detainees, said Reysha Swanson of Adelante, a non-profit organization based in Hoover that unites migrant workers and their families. Read more.
Read BirminghamWatch’s coverage on the Etowah Detention Center and immigration:
Immigration Detention Prolonged in Alabama’s ‘Black Hole’ (Associated Press)
Where Cities Help Detain Immigrants (CityLab)
Awot Negash’s troubles with U.S. immigration officials began in 2001 and spiraled two years ago when Immigration and Enforcement officials knocked on his suburban Washington, D.C., home.
He eventually wound up in a controversial immigrant detention center in Gadsden.
He has been arrested and sent to two centers where immigration officials hold immigrants. He describes the Etowah center in Gadsden as inefficient, unorganized, chaotic and dysfunctional.
Immigration actions in Alabama and Mississippi recently underscore the point: The campaign against undocumented residents is nationwide, not just on the southern U.S. border.
That’s no surprise to at least one group in Birmingham – the lawyers who specialize in immigration disputes and have been handling growing caseloads.
Local immigration attorneys said that where once individuals would have been released on bond, now they are being sent to detainment centers until their court dates, and it could take months or sometimes years for court dates to be scheduled. Read more.
Alabama Site for Detained Immigrants Has History of Abuse Charges, Efforts to Close It
As 2020 rolls in, BirminghamWatch looks back at its biggest stories of 2019, highlighting a different one each day.
After immigration officers detained Marcos Baltazar and his son, Juan, in Homewood one morning last week, the two men were in the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden by nightfall.
Their destination spotlights the Etowah center, a controversial facility adjoining the county jail in Gadsden where federal authorities detain immigrants.
The center has drawn critics’ protests and attempts to close it for years, and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office itself tried to close the facility in 2010. That effort hit a maelstrom of resistance from local political officials and their supporters in Congress.
Reports on the center cited deficiencies and violations of federal standards in a number of areas, including crowding, discrimination, retaliation, a lack of adequate mental health care and in many cases no effective medical care, poor food and hygiene at the center and practices that curtailed inmates’ ability to communicate with the outside world. Read more.