Eight arrested at Georgia protest vigil

Groups target immigration detention center

LUMPKIN, Ga. --- Eight people were arrested Friday during a vigil outside a federal immigration detention center in south Georgia.


A coalition of immigrant rights and civil liberties groups organized the protest outside the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin to call on the government to close the facility and to highlight the effects of immigration detention on the families and children of those detained.

"Families are being separated, and other families are living in fear, so I felt like I needed to act in solidarity with them," Anton Flores, one of those arrested, told The Associated Press by telephone as he was going through the bonding process.

Those arrested were charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass and were released on $250 cash bond each, according to the Stewart County Sheriff's Office.

Organizers said roughly 100 people from around the country gathered in downtown Lumpkin and then marched to the detention center.

Some held a paper chain with the names of immigrants who have died at detention centers around the country written on the links, said Azadeh Shahshahani, of the ACLU of Georgia, one of the organizers.

Several speakers addressed the crowd and there were songs and people playing drums, she said.

After the speeches, Flores and the seven others deliberately crossed a police line as a form of protest, he said. They were immediately arrested.

During the vigil, speakers called attention to the case of Pedro Guzman, a Guatemalan citizen who has been held at Stewart Detention Center for more than a year.

Guzman's U.S. citizen wife, Emily, attended the rally with their 4-year-old son and her mother.

Emily Guzman had planned to cross the police line in protest, but she and her mother, Pamela Alberda, decided that might be too traumatic for the young boy, so Alberda crossed instead and was among those who were arrested.

"We've worked so hard for so long, and I felt like I just needed to take this step," Alberda told the AP by phone.

Emily and Pedro Guzman have been married for six years, and the family has been fighting Pedro's deportation for more than a year, Alberda said.

"It's moved me to really deeply understand how badly broken our immigration system is," she said.

Stewart Detention Center is operated by Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's largest private corrections management company, which has a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

"We recognize that our nation's broken immigration system requires serious solutions," ICE spokeswoman Barbara Gonzalez said in an e-mail. "and we fully support comprehensive immigration reform efforts.

"While we continue to work with Congress to enact reform, ICE remains committed to smart, effective immigration enforcement that focuses first on convicted criminal aliens who pose a threat to public safety."