Four women who were detained in a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement jail are alleging that a nurse at the facility sexually assaulted them. This week on Intercepted, the four women, who were detained at the Stewart Detention Center in Georgia, share their stories with lead producer José Olivares and Intercept contributor John Washington. Olivares and Washington examined internal Homeland Security records, public reports, sheriff’s department documents, emergency call records, and interviewed nearly a dozen sources. They found alarming allegations of sexual assault and harassment and myriad problems, including medical neglect, and unsafe and unhealthy conditions. Olivares and Washington break down the facility’s history, the allegations by the women, and what conditions inside Stewart have been like for the past year and a half, since women began to be detained there.
UPDATE, July 19, 2022: Since releasing this episode, The Intercept found that a fifth woman reported allegations against the same nurse, demonstrating that CoreCivic gave at times incorrect information to news organizations.
ICE also released a statement, reading that its administrative investigation into the initial allegations determined they were unsubstantiated but that “two allegations remain under investigation.” ICE did not clarify which two allegations remain under investigation and declined to comment further to The Intercept.
José Olivares: This episode of Intercepted includes descriptions of sexual assault and suicide. Listener discretion is advised.
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John Washington: On her first day in the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, Maria, an asylum seeker from Venezuela, was ordered a routine medical screening.
Maria: [In Spanish, with a translated voiceover.] They took us to breakfast, and they began calling us one by one throughout the morning, to go to screenings. For me it was around the afternoon.
JW: After waiting for about two hours in a reception room, a nurse called her name. He greeted her, followed her into the small exam room, and then closed the door behind him. It was New Year’s Eve, 2021.
M: [In Spanish, with a translated voiceover.] He shut the door. No one had ever shut a door during an examination in the past — and they had given me medical exams at various times.
JO: Over the next approximately thirty minutes, according to letter itemizing complaints to the Department of Homeland Security’s Civil Rights and Civil Liberties office, the nurse touched Maria’s breasts, rubbed his penis against her hand, made repeated inappropriate sexual remarks, resisted her attempts to push away his hand, blocked her from leaving, and insisted on seeing her vaginal discharge.
Maria said she told the nurse to stop multiple times and asked to leave the exam room.
M: [In Spanish, with a translated voiceover.] I was shaking, I was scared, I wanted to leave. I stood up, asked him if it was done, if I could leave. He said no, that there was still a lot left. He said he would let me leave after listening to my heart.
It was the worst day of my life.
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Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.
JO: I’m José Olivares, lead producer for Intercepted.
JW: And I’m John Washington, a contributor with The Intercept.
JO: For years, we’ve been investigating conditions inside immigration detention centers throughout the country. And for the past few months, we’ve been looking into the Stewart Detention Center, where four women have come forward with allegations of sexual harassment and assault by the same nurse. Maria, who you just heard from, is one of the women who’ve come forward.
As of late May, the nurse continued to work in the Stewart Detention Center and attend to patients.
JW: The complaint reads that the nurse, “has repeatedly taken advantage of his position as a medical professional to isolate women at Stewart in curtained-off medical examination rooms, force or coerce them into giving him access to private parts of their body without medical justification or need, and assaulting them during his ‘medical exams.’ ”
JO: We attempted to reach the nurse by phone, but he never answered. We also sent him a list of questions to an address registered to him and he didn’t respond. We are not publicly naming the nurse because at this point these are allegations, and he hasn’t responded to our attempts to contact him.
JW: We also reached out to ICE, CoreCivic, and the Stewart County Sheriff’s Office. In a statement, CoreCivic verified they had received two sexual abuse complaints against the nurse. CoreCivic said they completed an administrative investigation finding that one report was “unsubstantiated” and that the other report was “unfounded.”
JO: We’ve been in contact with ICE. But they didn’t send a statement by the time we recorded this episode. The CRCL office and the Stewart County Sheriff’s Office also did not respond to detailed questions.
JW: The alarming allegations of sexual assault fit into a series of wide-ranging complaints by multiple women detained in the facility. Many of the women we spoke to described a pattern of medical neglect and unhealthy and abusive conditions.
JO: Stewart, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center, is owned and operated by the private prison company CoreCivic. It has long had a reputation for having the worst conditions in the ICE detention system.
It’s an isolated facility in rural Georgia with one of the highest death rates of all immigration jails. Stewart is known as the “black hole” of the immigration detention network. It has been the focus of stories about abusive guards, exploitative labor practices, and migrants driven to suicide.
JW: Until recently, only men suffered in Stewart. That changed after another Georgia detention center that locked up female migrants partially shut down, following explosive allegations of abuse.
JO: With the arrival of women at Stewart in December 2020, a new pattern of abuse allegations is emerging: sexual misconduct.
Our investigation is based on internal Homeland Security records, public reports, sheriff’s department documents, emergency call records, and interviews with nearly a dozen sources.
Over the last year, we’ve found 17 reports of sexual assault allegations from various sources – 11 of which allege abuse by facility staff. A public ICE report we reviewed said two allegations of sexual abuse by staff have been substantiated, along with another allegation of sexual abuse by a detainee.
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JW: We spoke with four separate women who are alleging sexual assault and harassment by the nurse at the facility. The details of their complaints are also included in the letter to the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties office, or CRCL, which was submitted on July 12.
JO: The CRCL complaint is co-signed by civil rights and immigrant advocacy organizations, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, Project South, the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, Black Alliance for Just Immigration, El Refugio, the Georgia Human Rights Clinic, and Owings MacNorlin, LLC. The organizations also filed four separate complaints against the nurse — one for each woman — to the Georgia Board of Nursing.
Erin Argueta: The purpose of submitting this complaint is to make sure that these allegations are documented, to call for an investigation.
JO: That’s Erin Argueta, lead attorney for the Lumpkin office of the Southern Poverty Law Center, one of the many organizations that co-signed the CRCL complaint.
EA: It is especially terrible when someone is detained and exposed to this abuse. Because they can’t escape, they’re in detention, there’s language barriers, there’s fear about what’s going to happen: Is this going to affect their immigration case? Is it going to be told to the judge? Are they going to be sent to the country they are escaping from? Are they going to be denied other medical care that they need? There are just so many ways that the detention center holds power.
We’re blown away by the bravery of these women, to open themselves up like this and tell these stories. Even when detained, and threatened with retaliation, they showed amazing bravery coming forward.
JW: The Intercept and the public CRCL complaint are using pseudonyms for the women to protect their privacy as victims of alleged assault. The agency and CRCL know their identities. We’ve also verified their identities through independent interviews with them, by reviewing records, and through interviews with their attorneys.
Two of the women said that both ICE officials and CoreCivic staff threatened them with retaliation for attempting to speak out in the detention center.
According to the CRCL complaint, an internal review by the Southern Poverty Law Center of detainee medical records found that the nurse was involved in the care of at least 165 people – from December 2018 through early 2022. Their review was only for medical records obtained from clients and other detained people who have contacted the organization, so the number of people the nurse has seen is most likely higher.
JO: CoreCivic said that the two women who reported they were sexually assaulted by the nurse at Stewart were offered medical, mental health, and emotional support services during the investigation, and that they were released from the facility before the investigation was completed.
CoreCivic also said that their administrative investigation determined one woman’s claim was unsubstantiated and the other was unfounded. We asked for clarity on what exactly that means, but we didn’t hear back. CoreCivic also told us: “The safety, health and well-being of the individuals entrusted to our care is our top priority.”
JW: Maria told us that after the nurse had closed the door behind him, he asked her to lie down. Here’s Maria, again:
M: [In Spanish, with a translated voiceover.] I lay down on the exam table, and I remember my left arm was hanging off the left side. And he placed his whole body over my arm — and obviously my arm was at the height of his penis, his hips.
And at the beginning, he brushed it, and continued examining me, and I said: “OK. It’s normal, my hand is close.” But no — he got closer to me, trapped my hand, and began to like rub himself against me, and he obviously had an erection.
JW: When she sat up, he told her he needed to listen to her heart and instructed her to lift up her shirt. The complaint states that he touched her breasts.
M: [In Spanish, with a translated voiceover.] In that moment, I got so scared. And he said: “It’ll be quick.” And he grabbed the stethoscope and put it here on my chest. But then, he lowered his hand and began touching me. Instead of using the stethoscope, he was touching me. And I swatted his hand away and said, “Leave me. I’m done.” And I stood up.
JW: The complaint also says that he then took her to another office and continued to inappropriately touch her and compliment her. He allowed her to leave a little while later.
JO: After the incident, Maria said she reported her experience to a CoreCivic staff member.
M: [In Spanish, with a translated voiceover.] I thought that was the worst that would happen. But afterwards, that’s when the really difficult days began.
JW: In the following days, as Maria describes in the complaint, both CoreCivic and ICE officials interviewed her. According to the complaint, she said one CoreCivic official accused her of fabricating the assault, and an ICE official allegedly said she would be given “seven years in prison” if she continued with her report, also saying they knew she was lying.
M: [In Spanish, with a translated voiceover.] I began to cry, inconsolably. And I told one of the officials that I was scared: “I’m scared – you’re causing me harm. I’m scared, I’m scared, I’m scared.”
JO: Laura, another woman detained in Stewart, also describes her experience in the complaint. She’d been suffering from severe stomach pain and made multiple requests for medical attention. She said she was not seen by medical staff for a month.
After the month-long wait, when she was finally seen, she was taken to an empty exam room and left alone with the same nurse who attended to Maria.
Laura: [In Spanish, with a translated voiceover.] He told me to raise my shirt up all the way to my chest. And he began to place the device that listens to my heart in the middle of my breasts.
JO: The complaint states that he then told her to pull her pants down and he put the stethoscope near her groin. In her original request for the medical check, she had also mentioned leg pain.
L: [In Spanish, with a translated voiceover.] So then he told me to take off my shoes and my socks. And he began to give me a very weird massage. And when he finished giving me the massage, he was going to put my sock back on, but I told him no. I shook my head no.
JO: Documents we reviewed show that Laura reported the allegations to at least three healthcare staff members, independent of each other, in early January. One staff member even noted her fear of retaliation, writing that Laura, “said she did not alert security because she was afraid of getting in trouble.”
JW: After speaking with the three healthcare staff members, ICE officials were alerted of a possible violation of the Prison Rape Elimination Act, or PREA, as the complaint states. Laura said that in the following days, two ICE officials threatened her, saying that there would be consequences if she were lying, and, again, that she could face seven years in prison for doing so.
L: [In Spanish, with a translated voiceover.] Well, sometimes, I wasn’t able to sleep. I spent some nights not being able to sleep. I couldn’t eat. I had fallen into depression. I think, maybe, it was also because of just my time being inside there. I was sick of it all. And maybe, I think, the way they treat you, it’s terrible.
JO: The letter says that due to the similar threats by ICE and Laura’s fear of retaliation, she decided she didn’t want to proceed with an official complaint. CoreCivic told us that the women were “treated fairly during the investigation.” And that the nurse was placed on administrative leave until the investigation was completed.
An internal database we obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request that tracks accusations, shows two women made complaints of sexual misconduct by medical staff at Stewart during the same period covered by the letter to the CRCL.
JW: The two other women in the CRCL complaint, Viviana and Marta, also allege similar behavior by the nurse. Both claim he had them remove their shirts during an exam. According to the complaint, the nurse also had Marta remove her bra.
Dr. Amy Zeidan: Sadly, I wasn’t surprised. And I think these things are rampant in detention facilities. It’s a culture where it’s allowed to happen.
JW: That’s Dr. Amy Zeidan, board member of the Georgia Human Rights Clinic and Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at Emory University School of Medicine. She reviewed the testimonies of the four women who spoke about sexual assault allegations.
AZ: You know, you go to a medical provider with a sense of trust. And there is a sense of hierarchy there, whether we admit it or not. And that person completely abuses that trust. And you can almost see it in some of the declarations, where some of the women are like: Wait, this is a medical provider. Maybe that’s what they’re supposed to do? And they sort of question — they kind of go along with it, because that’s what you think when you go to the doctor, like: They told me to do something, I’m going to do it.
And there’s such an abuse of power in that moment.
JO: We verified the nurse’s Georgia state nursing license. He’s been employed at the facility since at least 2017. He is currently an employee of CoreCivic; the private prison company runs all the medical care in the facility.
JW: Allegations of sexual assault and harassment — like those described by Maria, Laura, Viviana, and Marta — aren’t anything new for the facility.
JO: The Prison Rape Elimination Act, or PREA, sets standards to prevent and address sexual assault in carceral facilities. An internal Homeland Security Inspector General document from a 2017 inspection, said that guards at Stewart “lacked in-depth training” in PREA, which should be made a priority.
Since its opening in 2006, Stewart has undergone two PREA audits – one in 2017 and one in 2021.
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JW: Inspection reports about Stewart show that between 2017 and early 2021 — when there were few women detained in the facility — there were at least 27 reports of sexual assault. At least three of those were accusations made against staff.
JO: In contrast, the latest inspection report, which covers May 2021 to May 2022 shows there were at least 14 reports – and eight of those were allegations against staff.
JW: According to the detention center’s contract, both ICE and the Stewart County Sheriff’s Department must be notified of all PREA-related reports. In response to a public records request we submitted to the Sheriff’s Department, we found there have been at least 6 official reports of alleged sexual assault from July 2021 until April 2022. The Sheriff’s Office did not provide records for the other eight cases of alleged assault that were reported to ICE during that time.
CoreCivic told us that their policy is to: “support prosecution for those who are involved in incidents of sexual abuse.” Four of the complaints from the Sheriff’s Office explicitly say that they were investigated “in house” — meaning that outside authorities did not get involved.
This past March, a complaint was shared with the Sheriff that merely stated, “Staff v Detainee Prea Case. Case handled in house.” CoreCivic told us that their investigation found the allegation was unfounded.
When I spoke with the sheriff, Larry Jones, he confirmed that CoreCivic investigated those six cases on their own, saying that the sheriff’s office would only get involved if someone wanted to press charges. He also told me that there were so many such cases that it was overburdening the courts, and that CoreCivic suggested they themselves would handle as many of the cases as possible.
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JO: Stewart has the capacity to hold nearly 2,000 detainees, but, as of June, it has an average daily population of about half of that. For years, the facility has been chronically understaffed and lacking qualified medical personnel, according to DHS Inspector General reports.
JW: While the most egregious abuses in ICE facilities may garner headlines and lead to sometimes-fleeting public outrage, the persistent claims of medical neglect and overall unhealthy conditions frequently go unreported and remain out of public view.
Here’s Dr. Ziedan again:
AZ: As an environment, these places are very unhealthy and unsafe. Nobody can heal or get better when they are in a prison facility. So I think the use of these facilities is sort of contradictory to good health.
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JO: In the course of investigating the sexual assault allegations, we obtained records from a variety of sources that raise concerns of a broader pattern of medical neglect and unhealthy conditions in Stewart for all people detained.
The internal database from the CRCL office that we obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, shows there were 30 complaints made to the office from Stewart between August 2021 and April 2022. Many of the complaints allege lack of medical attention.
Other complaints mention rotten food, prolonged detention, and correctional staff misconduct or excessive use of force. One complaint alleged that a correctional officer was “sexually abusing and harassing” a detainee in January, and that the officer was “having inappropriate sexual interactions with the detainee via the electronic tablet system.”
In addition, we obtained 911 call records through another public records request, from late December 2020 — when women first started being held in Stewart — through late June of this year. The records show there were 118 emergency calls made to 911 from the facility.
At least 23 calls were specifically for detained women experiencing medical emergencies, although it could be more, since some of the emergency calls don’t specify a gender.
911 operator: Regional 911, what is your emergency?
Stewart employee: Hi this is Stewart seizure center. We have — zero-one is having a seizure, female.
911 operator: You said a female?
Stewart employee: Yes, ma’am.
Stewart employee 2: We need a [sic] EMS out here for a detainee that has a concussion.
911 operator 2: Concussion?
Stewart employee 2: Yes, ma’am.
911 operator 2: Is it a male or female?
Stewart employee 2: It’s a female.
911 operator 2: Female.
Stewart employee 3: We have zero-one female, needs to go up by EMS to Piedmont for chest pains.
Stewart employee 4: We have a female that needs to go out, having fever-like symptoms.
911 operator 3: OK. And it’s a female?
Stewart employee 4: Yes ma’am.
911 operator 3: Do you know how old she is?
Stewart employee 4: No, ma’am.
911 operator 3: And what’s happening to her?
Stewart employee 4: She’s having seizure-like symptoms. She’s started going in and out.
911 operator 3: OK. So she’s unconscious?
Stewart employee 4: She was, but I think they got her to come back.
JO: According to the 911 records and interviews with women in the facility, two women attempted suicide while in Stewart. Three women we spoke with said they saw or heard about the suicide attempts:
911 operator 4: 911, what’s your emergency?
Stewart employee 5: We need EMS — Stewart Detention Center, for a possible hanging.
911 operator 4: Stewart Detention hanging?
Stewart employee 5: Uh huh. Yeah.
911 operator 4: OK. Male or female?
Stewart employee 5: Female.
911 operator 4: OK. [Fades out.]
Diana: [In Spanish, with a translated voiceover.] After that event, a lot of the girls were really affected by seeing that. Many couldn’t sleep, they were depressed.
JO: That’s Diana, an asylum seeker who witnessed it.
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JO: ICE first began detaining women inside Stewart in late 2020, following explosive allegations about the mistreatment of detained migrant women in another facility about two hours east, in Georgia.
JW: As José and I first reported for The Intercept in the fall of 2020, Dawn Wooten, a nurse working at the Irwin County Detention Center — another privately-run ICE jail — blew the whistle on rampant abuse and medical neglect.
Amy Goodman [for Democracy Now!]: This comes as an explosive complaint, filed on behalf of a whistleblower nurse, accuses a different ICE jail in Georgia, the Irwin County Detention Center, of failing to protect both prisoners and employees from the virus.
Chris Hayes [for MSNBC]: That whistleblower complaint, first reported by The Intercept, was filed by a nurse who worked full-time at the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia.
JW: One of the most alarming revelations about Irwin was the alleged pattern of widespread, non-consensual gynecological procedures, including hysterectomies.
Nicolle Wallace [for MSNBC]: A whistleblower complaint filed this week alleges that immigrant detainees at a privately operated detention facility in Georgia were subjected to hysterectomies at an alarmingly high rate.
Chris Hayes [for MSNBC]: Now, you might have seen this story zipping around social media, understandably. And the allegations come from a formal complaint that was actually filed with the watch dog at the Department of Homeland Security.
JW: Congress, DHS, and the FBI all began investigating. After the whistleblower’s revelations and national and international outcry, the Biden Administration finally said immigrant detainees would no longer be sent to Irwin.
JO: But instead of releasing detained immigrants, ICE transferred them to other facilities, including Stewart. And despite its reputation, ICE began detaining women in Stewart.
Azadeh Shahshahani: I mean, when I first heard about it, I was shocked. Shocked, I would say, but not surprised, given the history of the government’s treatment of immigrants and the dehumanization of detained people.
JO: That’s Azadeh Shahshahani – the legal and advocacy director at Project South. Project South, and a coalition of other advocacy organizations, have been at the forefront of challenging ICE, Congress, and the White House, calling out abuses in detention centers in Georgia, Louisiana, and elsewhere in the South.
AS: Women first started being detained at Stewart during the Trump Administration. But then, the Biden Administration let that decision stand. They’ve now had more than a year to try to rectify the situation.
JO: The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
JW: Stewart Detention Center is run by one of the largest and oldest private-prison firms in the country, CoreCivic. As of 2019, the federal government pays CoreCivic $62.03 per day, for each person detained in Stewart.
JO: Since the facility began locking up immigrants in 2006, advocacy groups have continually called for it to be closed, pointing to its harsh conditions.
JW: From 2008 to 2012, a series of reports — by ICE, Georgia Detention Watch, ICE again, and the ACLU of Georgia — found miserable conditions at Stewart, ranging from issues in medical care to abuse, and gross food.
In 2012, Detention Watch Network named Stewart one of the worst immigration jails in the U.S. In 2017, Project South published a report highlighting the worsening conditions, especially with medical care and guards’ use of solitary confinement. In December of 2017, the Homeland Security Inspector General’s office released findings of their own, with serious concerns about detainee treatment.
JO: In 2018, CoreCivic was hit with a lawsuit by people detained in Stewart, claiming that they were forced to labor inside the facility for as little as $1 per day, and that those who refused were threatened with solitary confinement. The lawsuit is ongoing and CoreCivic has denied the labor issues.
Today, much of the work to clean, cook, and maintain the facility is still performed by people detained.
Here’s Shahshahani from Project South, again:
AS: They have a particular incentive, which is making money — so they have the incentive to short-change immigrants with basic care, basic necessities of life, whether it be food, or safety or healthcare. And, at the same time, subjecting detained immigrants to forced labor. So that instead of hiring regularly-waged employees, they rely on the forced labor of detained immigrants for sub-minimum wages, so between $1 to $4 per day, if they get paid at all.
JO: In the past five years, Stewart has had the most number of deaths in the entire ICE detention network.
JW: In 2008, two years after Stewart opened, 50-year-old Pedro Gumayagay, a migrant from the Philippines, died while in custody.
The following year, 39-year-old Roberto Medina-Martinez, also detained in Stewart, died of a heart condition, which was due to the “federal government’s negligence,” according to a lawsuit. The government settled with Medina’s widow, though the terms are undisclosed.
JO: In 2017, after spending 19 days in a tiny solitary confinement cell, 27-year-old Jean Jimenez-Joseph died by suicide.
Jimenez-Joseph lived with schizophrenia, a condition dangerously exacerbated by his time in solitary. Records showed that CoreCivic and ICE officials knew of his suicidal ideation, with Jimenez-Joseph even calling a federal hotline to ask for help before he died.
CBS News: ICE conducted a detainee death review, and found the staff there did not refer Jimenez Joseph for an urgent mental health assessment, after he reported having auditory hallucinations. His death sparked outrage among immigrant rights’ activists, who raised concerns about the agency’s treatment of mentally ill detainees.
JW: Months after Jimenez-Joseph died, 33-year-old Yulio Castro-Garrido died of pneumonia and viral influenza, despite having no health problems when he was first transferred to Stewart.
JO: In July 2018, 40-year-old Efraín Romero de la Rosa died in Stewart, under circumstances similar to Jimenez-Joseph’s death.
Brian Lehrer [for WNYC]: The undocumented Mexican immigrant killed himself while in solitary confinement last summer. The investigation shows that rules for dealing with migrants with mental health issues were skirted as Efraín’s mental health deteriorated.
JO: While detained in Stewart, Romero, who also suffered from schizophrenia, was placed on suicide watch and was even transferred to an external mental health facility.
We investigated his case and found that despite the warning signs, correctional staff placed him in solitary confinement without following proper protocols, neglected his mental illness, and falsified documents.
He died by suicide after 21 days in solitary confinement.
JW: A year later, 44-year-old Pedro Arriago-Santoya was transferred from Stewart to a nearby hospital, where he died due to heart problems.
During the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, officials counted at least 1,400 confirmed infections in Stewart. At one point, nearly 20 percent of the detainee population was infected.
AG [from Democracy Now!]: A 34-year-old Guatemalan man named Santiago Baten-Oxlaj reportedly passed away due to Covid-19 after being detained at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumkin, Georgia.
JW: At least four people have died of complications from the virus while detained in Stewart.
JO: In addition to the highest number of Covid deaths of any ICE detention center, advocates have criticized Stewart officials’ response to the virus.
When Covid began to spread, detainees demanded personal protective equipment, masks, and basic hygiene items.
On two occasions, in a two-week period, guards responded to the demands by deploying a “special response” unit of officers in riot gear, which then pepper-sprayed immigrants, fired pepper-balls, and placed people in solitary confinement.
JO: During another investigation, we found that a number of those officers joked about the use-of-force on social media and celebrated the violence.
ICE launched an internal investigation into the force and inappropriate social media usage. The findings have not been shared with the public.
Here’s Shahshahani from Project South again:
AS: It’s really unfortunate that the administration has taken the decision to keep this place open, when it was fully aware of the tragedies that have taken place at this ICE prison over the years, whether it be deaths or human rights violations, in various forms. And it is on them to prevent future tragedies, and it’s fully in their control to go ahead and shut this place down.
JW: Diana, an asylum seeker from Colombia who’d recently survived ovarian cancer, spoke with us about the recent medical neglect she faced in the facility. According to documents we reviewed, she submitted at least 12 requests to be seen by medical staff during her three months locked up in Stewart.
Diana: [In Spanish, with a translated voiceover.]I had ovarian cancer, so I have to keep taking part in tests. I had my surgery about a year ago, so I have to get frequent medical checks because it was really recent. I have to take hormones, have regular ultrasounds, keep count of cancerous cells, those types of things.
JW: A doctor at the facility told her that on her intake documents there was no mention of her having had cancer, despite the fact that she had told staff repeatedly at Stewart and at other ICE facilities where she’d been detained.
JO: Prior to entering Stewart, Diana had also gotten sick with Covid-19 and still suffered from lung complications. She brought an inhaler with her, but was not allowed to use it and was not given a replacement until close to her release.
D: [In Spanish, with a translated voiceover.] I was not allowed to use my inhaler. I had to put in complaint after complaint after complaint. At one point I thought: “[T]here’s going to be a moment where I’m going to stop breathing and I’m going to die.”
They didn’t allow me to use the inhaler until practically the last few days before I was released.
JO: In a statement, CoreCivic told us that: “Any claims that detainees are forced to wait to receive medical attention are patently false.”
JW: In December, Diana and other women were exposed to Covid-19 in the facility, and some of them quickly came down with symptoms. It took staff over two weeks to begin testing, which CoreCivic denies, and they got multiple positive cases. Diana said staff isolated her and the other women in solitary confinement cells for ten days.
D: [In Spanish, with a translated voiceover.] They put us in segregation. And instead of supposedly improving our conditions so that they could help our health, they placed us in even worse conditions. They put us in cold cells, freezing cold. And because it was so cold, my lung problems got worse.
JW: At one point, when a guard realized Diana had two blankets in the solitary cell, they took one of them away. The few times women in segregation were permitted to go outside, they were confined to individual cages.
JO: For this story, CoreCivic told us that solitary confinement: “[D]oes not exist at any of the facilities we operate.”
Although the company may not call it solitary confinement, hundreds of pages of records, videos, and photos we’ve obtained over the years show that in Stewart, CoreCivic does confine people alone in cells.
Here’s Argueta from the Southern Poverty Law Center, again:
EA: Specifically about medical care, we’ve been hearing for a long time that it’s inadequate, that people are not able to get care quickly, they’re not able to get specialist care, they can go weeks or months waiting to go to an offsite appointment. Sometimes things aren’t approved because of costs.
JW: The women named in the complaint are now out of Stewart, waiting for their immigration cases to wind through the court system. Despite Maria and Laura’s reports to ICE, and despite CRCL already being made aware in January of allegations, the women say they have not been contacted by DHS, ICE, nor CoreCivic officials after they were released.
Viviana, one of the women from the complaint, said that what she would like is for the nurse to not be there —
Viviana: [In Spanish] What I want, most of all, is that if that nurse is there, what I want is for him to not be there. Because I don’t want anyone else to go through that.
JW: — because she does not want anyone else to go through that.
And Maria echoed Viviana’s sentiment:
M: [In Spanish, with a translated voiceover.]How many more women have to keep going into this? I sometimes think I would have preferred staying in my country, than to have this memory for my entire life. My country — where we don’t have food, where you have to stand in line to eat, where I had to end my studies because… it’s difficult. I prefer to go through all of that than to be abused again.
[End credits music.]
JW: And that’s it for this episode of Intercepted. Follow us on Twitter @Intercepted and on Instagram @InterceptedPodcast.
JO: Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Supervising Producer is Laura Flynn. Ali Gahrib was our story editor. Legal review by David Bralow. Betsy Reed is editor in chief of The Intercept. And Rick Kwan mixed our show. Our theme music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky. For the English-language voiceovers in this episode, Nujavi Ramirez voiced Maria, Marina Peña voiced Laura, and Mala Muñoz voiced Diana.
JW: If you’d like to support our work, go to theintercept.com/join — your donation, no matter how much, makes a real difference.
JO: If you haven’t already, please subscribe to Intercepted. And definitely do leave us a rating or review — it helps people find us. If you enjoy this podcast, be sure to also check out Deconstructed, as well as Murderville, which is now in its second season.
JW: If you want to give us feedback, email us at [email protected] Thanks so much. Until next time, I’m John Washington.
JO: And I’m José Olivares.