Acting ICE Director Thomas HomanEXPAND
Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan
U.S. Department of Homeland Security / Wikimedia Commons

Thousands Demand ICE Stop Abusing Somali Detainees in Florida

In December, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in Louisiana shackled 92 Somali immigrants into airplane seats, fired the jet off toward their home country in eastern Africa, allegedly beat the men bloody and forced them to relieve themselves in their seats, mysteriously turned the plane around in Senegal, and then landed the caravan in Miami. After that ordeal, most of the men are still being held in ICE custody in Florida, where they've alleged been beaten, pepper-sprayed, and physically abused again.

Now an activist movement is growing in Florida to pressure ICE to punish or fire the agents involved in the alleged abused. More than 8,000 people have signed a petition demanding that ICE end the abuse.

"Marc Moore [ICE Florida's field office director] is the ranking ICE official for the detention centers where the Somalis 92 are being held," the petition reads. "We're calling on him to immediately stop this abuse and hold his agents accountable for their actions."

The 92 detainees have filed a lawsuit, which remains open, demanding their deportation cases be either re-opened or quashed because the government tried to deport the group once already.

Eighteen of those detainees have voluntarily opted out of the lawsuit and have "likely" been deported already, says Lisa Lehner, an attorney with Americans for Immigrant Justice. Lehner says some of them probably felt beaten down by conditions at Glades County Detention Center near Lake Okeechobee, where 52 of the detainees are being held. Others, she says, are at Krome Service Processing Center in Miami-Dade.

"In Glades, you can kind of see the incentive to want to leave," she says. "I was at Krome yesterday, and it’s just night and day — the conditions are completely different there. Depending on how long they’ve been detained, if they have family ties here or in Somalia, some might want to opt out" and accept their fates.

The 92 detainees described "slave ship" conditions on their December plane flight, alleging in legal documents that ICE guards verbally abused them, beat them, and potentially left some with permanent injuries. Then 52 of those detainees were sent to Glades County Detention Center, where they've alleged in administrative complaints against ICE and letters to Florida politicians that they've been repeatedly beaten, pepper-sprayed, subjected to racial slurs including the N-word, and held in solitary confinement.

"Quite frankly, if these circumstances existed in another country, the Glades County Detention Center would be on a 'watch-list' for humanitarian-rights organizations, and yet, this is occurring in your district," a February letter to Florida lawmakers read.

Protesters also held demonstrations in South Florida throughout the weekend to call attention to the immigrants' cases:

The 92 detainees also say that deporting the group to Somalia would be cruel and unusual punishment. Somalia is still reeling from a civil war, and the deportees say they'll likely be targeted for kidnappings or extortion if they're dropped back in Mogadishu. Only a small percentage of the group has actually been convicted of violent crimes. Many were simply parents and business owners living in the States on expired visas.

The new petition cites other cases of alleged abuse at Glades. In one case, the detainees say, a toilet overflowed at the center, but when they asked the guards for a mop, they were instead pepper-sprayed until they were unable to breathe.

"The conditions that the 92 Somali detainees endured are, unfortunately, not an aberration," the petition reads. "ICE agents have been operating as an unaccountable network — abusing power, using excessive force, and subjecting detainees to horrific treatment. And the fact that these migrants are Black and Muslim means that the state feels even more impunity to use violence against them. Just last week, another group of Somali migrants, who claimed physical and sexual violence at the hands of ICE, were deported from a Texas detention camp before their abusers could face justice. We say no more. We demand Marc Moore stop this cycle and hold his agents accountable."

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