ICE ‘retaliated’ against detainees for speaking to media, federal complaint says

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MIAMI — Three South Florida immigration detainees have reported being “retaliated against” by detention center officials after speaking to the media, a federal complaint says.

The grievance — filed last week with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties by immigration advocates following a June 9 Miami Herald article about conditions inside the Glades County detention center — chronicled three instances in which detainees said immigration officials retaliated against them.

“We have received information over the past 24 hours from people detained at Glades County Jail that leads us to believe jail staff is retaliating against individuals for speaking out about conditions inside the jail,” wrote Wendy King, executive director of Friends of Miami-Dade Detainees, a nonprofit organization that runs visitation programs at South Florida detention centers. “We hope that you take these reports of retaliation seriously and we will continue to monitor and report abuses at Glades County Jail.”

In the June 10 complaint, King said one asthmatic detainee claimed to be pepper-sprayed and that his spouse reported being temporarily blocked from using video visitation to communicate with him. The document also referenced another detainee, who said he was being “harassed” by command staff at the jail, as well as a third detainee who said he was pepper-sprayed after asking for water to drink. The third detainee also reported that his dorm was left without access to drinking water during the night and the following morning.

The Glades County detention center is run by the Glades County Sheriff’s Office under contract. It currently ranks among the nation’s top 10 detention centers with the largest number of COVID-19 cases.

The Glades County Sheriff’s Office told the Herald in an email that “there was no retaliation,” and directed all questions to DHS, which has not responded to an email from the Herald on Monday seeking comment.

As part of an ongoing federal lawsuit seeking the release of detainees from Glades in Moore Haven, the Krome Processing Center in Southwest Miami-Dade and the Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach, last week immigration officials disclosed to the court that the entire Glades center was on lockdown after every single one of its 320 detainees was exposed to the virus.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement also told U.S. District Court Judge Marcia Cooke that the agency has transferred people with COVID-19 to and from its facilities in Florida and across the country.

Shortly after, Cooke ruled that ICE must limit the transfer of “detainees to only instances regarding immediately necessary medical appointments and release from custody.” Social distancing requirements “should be strictly enforced in buses, vans, and planes,” she wrote. She also barred the practice of grouping people who tested positive for COVID-19 alongside people who are suspected of having the disease.

“In sum, in this moment of worldwide peril from a highly contagious pathogen, the Court is not satisfied that ICE’s commitment to detention has meaningfully shifted since the start of the pandemic,” Cooke wrote in a 40-page order.

But all of that is still happening, immigration lawyers representing detainees in the lawsuit told the court Monday. In a 75-page report, at least seven separate examples were presented to the judge in which detention dormitories consist of “a mix of people who have tested positive for COVID-19, those who are waiting for their test results, and individuals who have not been tested.”

Attorneys wrote to the judge that “unfortunately, ICE still has not received the message about its obligations to protect the people in its custody from COVID-19. Despite the Court’s Order granting the preliminary injunction, and despite the history of this litigation itself, ICE refuses to comply with the court’s instructions. Conditions at these facilities have predictably deteriorated.”

In an email to immigration lawyers in the case, Dexter Lee, an assistant U.S. attorney representing ICE, responded to claims made by attorneys in court that detainees “were vomiting, coughing up blood, and running high fevers.”

“I asked ICE to speak with Glades Detention Center regarding the status of the ICE detainees at that location,” Lee said in the email. “Specifically, I asked about your report. The representative reported that the detainees have only complained of headaches, body aches, and sore throats, which are symptoms to be expected. Most of the detainees are asymptomatic. On the morning of June 5, when the nurses made their morning rounds, there were no cases of anyone with a temperature over 100 degrees.”

ICE was ordered to respond to the immigration lawyers’ 75-page report by noon Friday; the next virtual court hearing to discuss the matter is set for June 24.

According to the most recent data available, as of Monday, 1,217 detainees are detained at Krome, BTC, and Glades, and 77% are considered to be subject to “mandatory detention,” or not releasable because of pending criminal charges or past convictions.

The agency said it has transferred a total of 14 detainees to other detention centers between June 5 and June 12 from BTC and Krome either because they needed to be readied for deportation or for a “custody reevaluation.” Zero transfers were reported from Glades.


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