(RNS) — Legal advocates are reporting that Muslim detainees at a Miami immigration detention facility have for months been forced to choose between eating pork or expired halal food.
Since the onset of the pandemic, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers have repeatedly violated the religious freedom rights of Muslim detainees at the Krome Service Processing Center, say lawyers working with the civil rights groups Muslim Advocates and the Florida-based Americans for Immigrant Justice.
“In the face of the Krome staff’s indifference and inaction, Muslim detainees are left with three choices during this pandemic: eat meals that contain pork, eat meals that are spoiled, or eat nothing at all,” the group argued in a letter sent to ICE and the Department of Homeland Security on Wednesday (Aug. 19), demanding an immediate restoration of the detainees’ rights under the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
When Muslim detainees approached Krome’s chaplain for assistance, the chaplain dismissed their repeated complaints by saying, “It is what it is,” the civil rights groups allege.
Formal requests submitted to ICE staff, too, were “willfully ignored” for months, the groups said.
“Such actions not only violate detainees’ constitutional rights, but also put their health and well-being at serious risk,” the groups said. “In recent months, Muslim detainees who have eaten those spoiled halal meals have reported experiencing stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea.”
Since at least 2017, ICE officials at Krome have regularly served Muslim detainees rotten and expired prepackaged halal meals, detainees told the civil rights groups. But before the coronavirus outbreak, Muslim detainees could select their own meals from the cafeteria and were thus able to avoid pork and expired halal meals.
Since the outbreak, though, Krome switched to a satellite-feeding program, under which all meals are pre-plated. Detainees report that at least two times a week, ICE officials serve Muslim detainees meals with pre-plated pork sausage, pork ribs and other pork-based ingredients, despite knowing of their faith-based food requirements.
Last year, several Somali detainees at another Florida ICE facility, Glades County Detention Center, claimed ICE officials denied them halal food, religious items and the ability to pray. Muslim Advocates and Americans for Immigrant Justice also filed suit on behalf of those men.
In 2017, ICE deportation officers working at Glades reportedly questioned whether Muslims sincerely believe in following a halal diet and said detainees who want halal food should go to Krome instead.
“Glades County Detention Center is brazenly violating fundamental religious rights for no discernible reason other than to harass and demean Muslims,” said Muslim Advocates fellow Yusuf Saei said at the time. “Needlessly restrictive detention conditions such as these also pressure immigrants to give up on their cases and accept deportation rather than wait for an outcome in their underlying immigration case.”