Glades County Sheriff David Hardin
Glades County Sheriff David Hardin
Glades County Sheriff's Office

Florida ICE Detention Center Didn't Fix Muslim Discrimination in Time for Ramadan, Lawyers Say

Last week, activists warned that the Glades County Detention Center was abusing Muslim detainees and refusing to let them observe Ramadan. Lawyers with the groups Muslim Advocates and Americans for Immigrant Justice warned there were only eight days of the Islamic holy month left and begged ICE and Glades County Sheriff David Hardin, who runs the jail, to change their ways before time ran out.

Well, Ramadan ends at sundown tonight and segues into the holy celebration of Eid al-Fitr. The lawyers announced yesterday evening that the detention center, which is less than two hours from downtown Miami, still has not stopped denying inmates their right to worship.

"Unfortunately, these ongoing violations and the lack of response to concerns raised in last week’s letter are not surprising," AIJ lawyer Lisa Lehner wrote in a media release yesterday afternoon. "Instead, this is the way both ICE and Glades County Detention Center officials have responded in the past when other issues, such as inadequate medical care and access to counsel, have been raised. ICE and Glades County are required to respect the religious freedoms of all its detainees, and they must remedy these violations immediately.”

The attorneys say the facility routinely denies Muslim detainees access to the Koran (though hands out Bibles to Christians without any protest) and refuses to serve hot, halal food and instead has given detainees congealed leftovers that have been sitting out. Muslim men wearing kufis say guards have smacked the hats off their heads. In one case, guards threw a man in solitary confinement for wearing the religious cap.

The Glades County facility has been repeatedly accused of horrid abuse this year. The prison, located just west of Lake Okeechobee, houses both criminal inmates arrested in Glades County and ICE detainees sent from all over the nation. Sheriff Hardin told the hometown Okeechobee News last year that the facility nearly closed in 2015 because it wasn't receiving enough federal inmates. But then he said Donald Trump's new ICE crackdowns had revived the jail and put guards back to work.

Last December, ICE tried to deport 92 Somali detainees held in Louisiana but inexplicably stopped the plane in Dakar, Senegal, turned around, and landed back in Miami instead. The detainees say they were shackled inside the plane for 48 straight hours, beaten, verbally abused, and denied access to restrooms the entire time. Some of those detainees were then shipped to ICE's Krome Processing Center in Southwest Miami-Dade, but others wound up in Glades County instead.

The men detained there have alleged in a series of letters and legal filings that the Glades County guards have been violently abusing them. Detainees say they've been pepper-sprayed for no reason (and forced to live for days afterward in spray-soaked clothing). They say they've been regularly beaten, screamed at, called racial slurs including the N-word, and in multiple cases refused medical service for serious conditions, including broken bones.

Speaking to New Times last week, ICE Miami spokesperson Nestor Yglesias said that ICE takes accusations of misconduct "seriously" and that "should these allegations be substantiated, appropriate action will be taken."

But now, the Muslim rights advocates say nothing has been done since then, and time has basically run out for Glades County to rectify the situation.

“Aside from a vague commitment offered to the media to investigate the concerns we outlined in last week’s letter, neither ICE nor GCDC has offered any indication that it will allow the Muslim detainees to properly observe Ramadan or even acknowledge receipt of our letter," Muslim Advocates' legal director, Jonathan Smith, said last night. "Instead, we are continuing to hear reports of ongoing violations. If GCDC has any intention of actually allowing its detainees to observe Ramadan, it’s running out of time quickly. GCDC must acknowledge its responsibility to uphold the religious freedom of all people in its custody and correct these improper actions, before Ramadan ends.”

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