New film explores Georgia immigration jail through a COVID-19 lens

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As COVID-19 began spreading through a South Georgia immigration jail, one detainee fashioned a face mask from a sock. Another used a headphone cord to secure a plastic cup over his face.

Another man sat in front of a video-call camera and confided his growing fear. “I’m really scared,” he said, “I’m going to die.”

These are scenes from a new documentary called “The Facility,” directed by the journalist Seth Freed Wessler. The film uses the first months of the coronavirus pandemic to explore conditions at the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, where undocumented immigrants were held, often indefinitely and without criminal charges, by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

“This is both a specific place and it’s also a story about a system,” Wessler, whose film debuts in early December on the documentary site fieldofvision.org, said in an interview. “We have a system that is treating asylum seekers and immigrants in a punitive way and is causing really significant suffering.”

Wessler, now a reporter for the online investigative news organization ProPublica, made the documentary after writing about the treatment of detainees at Irwin for HuffPost and The New York Times Magazine. The film begins in March 2020 as the first detainees tested positive for the coronavirus — and six months before a whistleblower went public with allegations that women detainees had been subjected to unwanted gynecological procedures. See more at AJC.

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