On September 16th, the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic and the HLS Immigration Project, in collaboration with Project South, Georgia Detention Watch, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, and South Georgia Immigrant Support Network, released a report, titled Violence and Violation: Exposing medical abuse of immigrants detained at the Irwin County Detention Center. Download the full report (PDF).
The report’s release marked the culmination of months of hard work from multiple law school clinics and advocacy groups, including Harvard Law School students, faculty, and staff, in particular at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic (HIRC), the HLS Immigration Project (HIP), and the Crimmigration Clinic. Our Program’s involvement with the report began in September 2020, when news of the medical abuses at Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) broke. Outraged by the horrific events at ICDC, students in HIP decided to spread awareness about these abuses by hosting an event with Azadeh Shahshahani, the Legal and Advocacy Director of Project South, who spoke about the invasive, non-consensual gynecological procedures immigrants at ICDC were subjected to. After the event, students at HIP reached out to Azadeh to ask her how they could help and she invited them to join a number of organizations who were writing a report that highlighted the voices of the women who had suffered medical abuses at ICDC. From there, HIP and clinical students became increasingly involved, interviewing clients, fact-checking statements, and drafting the report. They collaborated with numerous groups along the way, including law school clinics at Columbia University, Boston University, and the University of Georgia, and several Georgia-based advocacy groups.
The report opened the door to further advocacy related to the abuses at ICDC. HIRC, along with other law school clinics, law firms, and advocacy groups, co-counseled a class action lawsuit against ICE, ICDC, and others, which is still ongoing. Attorneys and law students at HIRC, HIP, and the Crimmigration Clinic also collaborated with organizers and advocates in Georgia to secure the release of multiple immigrants detained at ICDC. HIRC attorneys and law students currently represent three of the women previously detained at ICDC in their applications for immigration relief.
In April 2021, the ICDC Project team received the Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA) Award for Excellence in a Public Interest Case or Project. The award recognizes “advocacy that redresses a high-priority need, is in conformity with the highest standards of professional conduct and competence, and serves as an inspiring model for engaging in legal work under challenging conditions in furtherance of the common good.”
The CLEA award recognizes all the dedication and effort that law students, attorneys, and organizers poured into working toward justice for the women who suffered abuses at ICDC. For the award ceremony, law clinic students who worked on the case spoke in a YouTube video about their experiences working on the project. They all noted the deep respect they have for the immigrant women they worked with. Gina Starfield (JD ‘22), a student at Harvard Law School, mentioned a guiding principle behind her work and the HIRC’s efforts: to “advocate for our clients and let their voices…carry the advocacy.”
This post was written by HIRCP summer intern Kate Lester. Kate is a rising senior at Amherst College.
Image by Nicolas Lampert.