Georgia Law clinics join to assist in litigation by immigrant women alleging abuse, retaliation while in ICE detention

Two clinics here at the University of Georgia School of Law have joined forces on behalf of women who allege they endured abusive gynecological and other medical treatments, as well as inhumane conditions and retaliation, while in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), at a privately run facility in south Georgia.

Allegations became public with a September report by an independent team of experts who reviewed complaints by detainee-whistleblowers at the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, located 187 miles south of Atlanta and 55 miles north of Valdosta.

Investigations, congressional inquiries, and litigation ensued – including a habeas corpus petition that one detainee, Yanira Yesenia Oldaker, filed November 9 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia. The Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Columbia Law School in New York represents Oldaker.

A mid-November phone call led to the representation by Georgia Law’s Community HeLP and First Amendment Law Clinics of another Irwin detainee-whistleblower. Because ICE has sought – at times successfully – to deport detainees who assist in exposing conditions, the case implicates both immigration statutes and the Constitution’s free speech guarantees.

The Georgia Law clinics prepared a motion on behalf of their client and 21 other detainees, women who migrated to the United States from at least 4 continents. Filed last Thursday, the motion and memorandum of law (available here) seek to add these women’s declarations in support of the Oldaker petition; additionally, to permit 19 of the women, who fear retaliation if identified, to proceed using “Jane Doe” pseudonyms and to file under seal their declarations, which contain allegations of abuse.

Clare R. Norins, Assistant Clinical Professor and a clinic director, explained:

While normally the First Amendment Clinic stands on the side of transparency in the courts, this time we are arguing for less public access in order to protect our client and the other 21 women from suffering retribution for exercising their free-speech right to describe their inhumane treatment to the court, and in so doing, petition to government for grievances.

The motion is pending before U.S. District Judge W. Louis Sands in Valdosta.

Taking part in this team effort were faculty, staff, and students: for the First Amendment Clinic along with Professor Norins were 3L Anish Patel and Legal Fellow Samantha Hamilton; and for the Community HeLP Clinic, the director, Associate Dean  Jason A. Cade, and Staff Attorney Kristen Shepherd. Providing further assistance, including translation from English to Spanish, was administrative associate Sarah Ehlers.