ICE detainees to be released

Glades County has ‘zero control’ about where immigrants will be released

MOORE HAVEN — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities will comply with a federal judge’s order to release detainees from three South Florida detention centers including one in Glades County, an ICE spokesman said Monday night, May 4.

The Glades County Sheriff’s Office (GCSO), which is in charge of holding some transferred to the Glades County Detention Center (GCDC) in Moore Haven, stated there is zero local control about where they will be released.

U.S. District Judge Marcia G. Cooke ordered April 30 in a lawsuit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and several partners, that those ICE detainees must be released because of “cruel and unusual punishment” — i.e., ICE’s disregard of their safety in confined spaces as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads globally.

Several guards at the Krome Processing Center in Miami have tested positive for the coronavirus and, according to reporting by The Miami Herald, detainees who’d been exposed to them were segregated. Overflow ICE detainees regularly have been transferred from Krome to the GCDC under a 13-year-old contract between GCSO and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (ICE’s parent). Several busloads were transferred during April. Already in custody more than 14 days, those detainees were kept separate from GCDC inmates arrested locally, said Glades County Chief Deputy Keith Henson, who supervises the jail.

Chief Henson said in a phone interview Monday that the sheriff’s office and he have “nothing to do with what happens with these inmates,” adding that they are under the jurisdiction of ICE, the DHS and the federal court system.
As to the jail’s operation, he explained: “We’re on our normal … well, if anything’s normal in today’s unique configuration, we’re operating normally. I can’t really comment specifically about our situation or about ICE’s operation, based on the pending litigation that’s ongoing that’s been remedied with that” court order.

In response to an email inquiry May 4, local ICE spokesman Nestor Yglesias wrote:

“As there is pending litigation on this subject we are not able to speak specifically to the lawsuit as ICE does not comment on pending litigation. That said, absence of specific comment should in no way be construed as agreement to anything in a particular lawsuit.”

Mr. Yglesias passed along some statistics released by ICE: Since Feb. 29, its detained population across the U.S. has declined by more than 9,000 — or 20% — to 29,675 nationwide as of April 25.

His email stated: “ICE has a long history of handling communicable diseases in the course of everyday operations and maintains emergency and contingency pandemic plans. The agency has modified its enforcement posture, detention operations and visitation practices to ensure that individuals in the agency’s custody and its employees remain safe.

“Separate from the lawsuit, in general, ICE has taken extensive precautions to limit the potential spread of COVID-19; we’ve posted an extensive listing of all the precautions and procedures this agency has taken to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19.”

To view it online, go to ice.gov/coronavirus.

A news release from the plaintiffs, led by the Southern Poverty Law Center, explained that the order in the lawsuit, ffirst filed on April 13, directs ICE to submit a report to the court explaining how it intends to accelerate its review of its Alternatives to Detention Program. The goal is to reduce the population to 75 percent of capacity at each of the three detention centers within two weeks, it said. That action was strongly recommended to be required of ICE about a week previously, due to conditions at the detention centers and how they have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, in a report to Judge Cooke by federal Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman.

Judge Cooke also ordered ICE to submit weekly reports to the court, perform custody redeterminations for the 34 named individuals in the suit within one week and provide masks for every individual in the three facilities within two days. Judge Cooke found that there is sufficient evidence to determine that the conditions at the detention centers constitute a violation of detained individuals’ Fifth and Eighth Amendment rights.

She also wrote in her 12-page order that ICE had acted in “deliberate indifference” to the conditions under which detainees have been held at the Krome Processing Center in Miami, Broward Transitional Center in Plantation, and GCDC.
Reporting by The Miami Herald has detailed “ICE’s practice of segregating together as many as a hundred detainees who have been exposed to COVID-19 and isolating them in large dormitories with no masks, no sanitizer and no possibility of social distancing” (April 30).

“There is record evidence demonstrating that ICE has failed in its duty to protect the safety and general well-being of the petitioners,” Judge Cooke wrote. “Social distancing at Krome is not only practically impossible, the conditions are becoming worse every day. Further, ICE has failed to provide detainees in some detention centers with masks, soap and other cleaning supplies, and failed to ensure that all detainees housed at the three detention centers can practice social distancing.”

Paul R. Chavez, senior supervising attorney with SPLC’s Immigrant Justice Project, released this statement: “This victory is a promising step in the right direction to end the cruel and unusual punishment of nearly 1,400 individuals detained in South Florida. We are pleased to see the court move to hold ICE accountable for its barbaric and inhumane treatment of our immigrant friends, family members and neighbors. The pandemic has only exacerbated the life-and-death stakes of ICE detention.

“We look forward to holding ICE accountable to this order and will be filing for class action certification soon. The urgency of the situation cannot be understated. By ignoring the advice of doctors and public health experts, the agency is knowingly putting detained people’s lives in grave danger. It’s impossible to practice social distancing and other CDC guidelines in detention centers, even if they are not at capacity.

“The cruel irony is ICE never had reason to detain those under its custody in the first place. There is no justification to force immigrants to navigate their civil immigration matters from behind bars. Now, their wholly unnecessary detention has led to catastrophic outbreaks that will soon burden an already strained health care system.

“We must release detained people back into the safety of their communities where they can protect themselves and their loved ones from the virus. Unless we correct course and free them now, Florida and ICE will bear responsibility for unfathomable harm and loss of life.”

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