By Linh Nguyen
MIAMI – After the group Muslim Advocates alleged that ICE is making Muslim detainees choose between eating pork or spoiled halal food in the Krome Service Processing Center detention facility in Miami, Florida, Congress is calling on Homeland Security to fully investigate these allegations.
Muslim Advocates, a national civil rights and legal advocacy organization, received concerning reports of a widespread pattern of religious rights violations of Muslim detainees at the Krome facility. The detainees at this facility were repeatedly served meals containing pork or spoiled halal food throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing them to choose between their religious beliefs or their health.
Muslim Advocates addressed these concerns to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement in a letter on Aug. 18, 2020.
Muslim people do not consume pork because it is forbidden in their religion. Furthermore, eating spoiled food poses serious health issues. In recent months, Muslim detainees who have eaten the spoiled halal meals have reported experiencing stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea.
ICE has publicly denied these allegations.
However, there is documented history of ICE having violated the religious freedom rights affecting Muslim, Catholic, Hindu and Jewish detainees across multiple detention facilities. There has also been a history of “dangerously poor food quality” in ICE detention facilities.
Because of these histories, some members of Congress suspect these allegations of targeted violations of Muslim civil rights to be credible and also widespread to other ICE detention facilities.
Monday, Representatives Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Andre Carson wrote a letter to Cameron Quinn, Officer for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties for Homeland Security to ask Quinn’s office to investigate allegations raised about the treatment of Muslim detainees at the Krome Service Processing Center, and that the results of the investigation be made public.
The representatives do not believe that the Krome location is the only facility where the alleged violations are occurring, and want Homeland Security to expand its investigation to include other facilities with significant numbers of detainees requiring religious accommodations.
The representatives further request that Homeland Security specifically examine the grievance and complaint system at these facilities, because, apparently, there have been allegations that detainees filing grievances about their meals never received a response.
Lastly, they ask that Quinn does “everything in your office’s power to ensure that all Muslim detainees and other detainees requiring religious dietary accommodations are given immediate access to those accommodations, and that ICE officers and employees who have violated detainees’ rights are held accountable.”
“The fundamental values of religious freedom and equality before the law are essential to the fabric of our democracy,” the letter notes, adding, “We demand accountability for this treatment, and we look forward to working with your office to achieve it.”
The allegations of how ICE officers are serving food to Muslim detainees requiring religious accommodations are a violation of ICE’s 2011 Performance-Based National Detention Standards and a violation of the civil rights and civil liberties of Muslim detainees. This is also a violation of the Muslim detainee’s rights under the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
The representatives put blame on the Trump administration.
“The United States was founded on principles of religious liberty and equality before the law,” said Rep. Omar. “This episode represents only the latest betrayal of those principles by the Trump Administration — a presidency built on xenophobia and anti-Muslim hate — and a brutal reminder of the inhumanity of ICE detention. This cruel system of abuse must end and its perpetrators must be held fully accountable.”
“This incident in Miami is just one more in a long line of acts of gross dehumanization of our immigrant neighbors by the Trump Administration,” said Rep. Tlaib. “Federal officials must not be allowed to carry out the hate agenda of this President with impunity. Those subjected to this abuse deserve justice and I am proud to join my colleagues in demanding it, as well as working to ensure no other is subjected to it again.”
Prior to the pandemic, detainees were able to select their own meals from the cafeteria. Muslim detainees could then avoid pork and pork-based food even if the halal meals were spoiled. However, because of the pandemic, all meals are served pre-portioned and pre-plated in the housing units.
Muslim Advocates contend that ICE officers at Krome have “long been aware of the Muslim detainees’ faith-based dietary restrictions,” yet they are serving Muslim detainees pre-plated pork sausage, pork ribs and other pork-based ingredients. This is what is allegedly served three times a week.
The letter the Muslim Advocates argues that there is “no compelling reason [that] justifies ICE serving pork and expired halal meals to Muslim detainees at Krome.”
“It does not further any identifiable government interest or legitimate penological objective,” the letter says. “Nor is there any discernible or reasonable justification for not including a pork-free meal for Muslim detainees through the satellite-feeding system.
“Even if serving pork and expired halal meals to Muslim detainees did further some government interest or a legitimate penological objective, RFRA requires that the substantial burden imposed on the detainees be the least restrictive means of furthering that interest.”
Krome has a history of disregarding the well-being and constitutional rights of detainees in ICE’s care. In June, detainees filed complaints alleging violations of the Fifth and Eighth Amendment. They complained about violation of detention standards and violations of their right to reasonable safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Court intervened and required ICE to enhance its protections by providing detainees with sufficient hand soap, cleaning supplies and masks.
The next month in July, detainees filed a motion to compel, alleging that ICE had not complied with the court’s order.
Because of the “gravity of the situation and the core rights at issue,” Muslim Advocates requested a response to its correspondence within 14 days, or they will seek legal remedy.
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