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Members of Congress join activists in calling for the closure of Glades County Detention Center over migrant treatment

The Florida detention center has a detailed history of calls to close over inadequate conditions and abuse.

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On Thursday, July 22, a small group of Congressmembers joined communities and advocates in calling for the closure of an immigration detention center in Florida that has an alarming pattern of abuse.

The eight members were Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Rashida Tlaib, Lois Frankel, Val B. Demmings, and Ted Deutch, and they delivered a letter to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, calling for the Department to immediately end its contract with Glades County and close the Glades County Detention Center (GCDC) in Moore Haven, Florida.

The letter comes amid abuse by ICE and Glades County officials, including life-threatening medical negligence, and the use of toxic chemical spray, which is directly impacting the spread of COVID-19 and potentially harming the health and fertility of migrant detainees.

In urging DHS to shut down the facility, the lawmakers joined the ongoing movement to close GCDC, a movement spearheaded by immigrant detainees at the center and the Shut Down Glades Coalition, which is made up of several organizations including Florida’s ACLU, United We Dream, Detention Watch Network, and Freedom for Immigrants. 

The lawmakers cited civil rights complaints and testimony from migrant detainees within the center, outlining a disturbing cycle of abuse, use of force in retaliation for peaceful protest, and lack of compliance with COVID-19 safety protocols. 

Sean Taylor, a Jamaican immigrant who has been in ICE custody at GCDC for eight months, said that there are “multiple reasons” that the center should be shut down, one of the most pressing being the state of medical treatment. 

“The responses are not rapid in emergency situations, the doctors and nurses are always turning down patients for unreasonable reasons. There is a lack of care here by the medical staff, and it is very inhumane to the people that are here,” Taylor wrote in his testimony. 

The lawmakers highlighted how the GCDC recklessly wastes taxpayer money, and that its continued operation directly goes against the Biden’s administration’s stated efforts to end immigrant rights abuses. 

“Terminating the contract with Glades County and closing this facility would be a critical step towards the Department’s larger goal of creating a fairer, more just, and more efficient civil immigration system,” the lawmakers wrote.

The fight to close GCDC has been gaining momentum since early 2021. 

On Monday, Feb. 22, nine immigrant rights groups, including Americans for Immigrant Justice (AI Justice), submitted a multi-individual federal civil rights complaint against GCDC on behalf of 300 detainees who have been put at unnecessary risk for contracting COVID-19. 

The complaint was filed with the Office of the Inspector General and the Office for Civil Rights & Civil Liberties at DHS, and the groups demanded investigation and immediate oversight to prevent additional deaths and health consequences.

The groups also demanded that ICE terminate its contract with Glades County and immediately release all people detained at the center.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, ICE’s “intentional disregard” for the safety and well-being of those in its custody has been well-documented at Glades. In the complaint, 25 testimonies of current and formerly detained individuals detailed the daily atrocities happening within the center.

The testimonies showed that detainees were forced to live without appropriate hygienic products such as soap and sanitation products. Detainees were still transferred between facilities without the use of quarantine, and GCDC staff were using toxic chemical spray in enclosed spaces. 

“Considering the well-documented history of systemic medical neglect and abuse even before the onset of the pandemic, we are calling on ICE to urgently cancel its contract with Glades,” said Jessica Schneider, Director of the Detention Program at AI Justice. 

A few months later, on Wednesday, April 28, the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to Sec. Mayorkas calling for the closure of 39 ICE detention centers, including GCDC, and two other Florida facilities. 

In the letter, Silvana Caldera, immigrants’ rights policy strategist with the ACLU of Florida, mentioned the civil rights complaint from February, pointing out how severe the neglect, abuse and violations have become.

“It is time to finally address the countless reports of human rights at this and other facilities in Florida — Glades, Baker, and Krome — and stop unnecessarily separating families and endangering lives,” Caldera said.

The ACLU called on the Biden administration to close all detention facilities that meet a certain criteria, as found by the Government Accountability Office.

Glades, Baker, and Krome have been selected due to ongoing reports of inadequate conditions, violating ICE’S own standards, and infringing on the rights of the detained.

2020 was the deadliest year on record for ICE detention, in the last 15 years, according to Vera Institute of Justice. Last year alone, there was increased reporting of use of force, solitary confinement, sexual abuse patterns, forced sterilization, and a failure to protect people from COVID-19 infections. 

ICE recently transferred six women into GCDC after considering converting it into an all-women’s center, raising further concerns about violations and abuses of women’s reproductive health and safety — a deeply rooted issue within the immigration detention system. 

“The number of detained people is currently lower than it’s been in two decades: President Biden has a unique moment to shrink the infrastructure that’s been used to abuse and traumatize immigrants for decades. It’s time to end our nation’s newest system of mass incarceration of Black and Brown people,” wrote Naureen Shah, senior advocacy and policy counsel at the ACLU. 

 

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