[Pnews] ICE Detention Center Is Creating Obstacles to Ramadan Observance for Muslim Detainees

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Thu Jun 7 14:59:18 EDT 2018


  ICE Detention Center Is Creating Obstacles to Ramadan Observance for
  Muslim Detainees, Lawyers Say

Maryam Saleh <https://theintercept.com/staff/maryamsaleh/>- June 7 2018

_When an inmate_ at the Glades County Detention Center requests a Bible, 
the turnaround is about as rapid as one would expect, often with the 
chaplain’s personal involvement.

Ask for a copy of the Quran, and be prepared to wait.

Thanks to an ill-fated airplane flight that made international news when 
it failed to deport 92 Somalis, the detention center has no shortage of 
Muslim occupants. The difficulty of getting a Quran is just one of many 
indignities being meted out by the prison brass and guards during the 
month of Ramadan, a time of heightened spiritual reflection during which 
Muslims abstain from food and water between sunrise and sunset.

Even that, though, has become its own battle for devotees at the Glades 
facility, a Florida jail that doubles as an immigration detention 
facility. Most Muslims get to decide of their own volition whether or 
not they want to participate in the fast, an exercise in self control. 
But for those at Glades, there is an external barrier that can get in 
the way: an officer’s arbitrary decision whether or not to place them on 
the facility’s “Ramadan list,” according to a letter sent by lawyers 
from Muslim Advocates and Americans for Immigrant Justice to officials 
at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Glades County 
Sheriff’s Office on Thursday.

In the seven-page letter, which is being reported for the first time by 
The Intercept, the lawyers charge that Glades staff has prevented Muslim 
detainees at the facility from the free exercise of their faith.

Employees from the sheriff’s office working at Glades have “unreasonably 
hindered individuals from observing the holy month of Ramadan by denying 
individuals access to the Ramadan list and by also providing inedible 
and insufficient quantities of food to those who fast,” reads the 
letter. Other practices at Glades, “including lack of access to halal 
meals and frequent cancellations of weekly congregational prayer 
services,” have also gotten in the way of the Muslim men’s religious 
observance. (Halal is the Arabic word for permissible, and when it comes 
to food, the concept refers to dietary standards that Muslims follow.)

“Accusations of misconduct involving agency employees and its 
contractors are taken seriously and will be investigated thoroughly,” 
ICE spokesperson Nestor Yglesias said in a statement. “Should these 
allegations be substantiated, appropriate action will be taken. ICE 
employees and contractors are held to the highest standard of 
professional and ethical conduct.”

Most of the complainants are part of a group of detainees that was 
brought to Glades in December, after a failed deportation flight to 
Somalia on which they said they were physically abused by ICE officers. 
(Four legal groups, including Americans for Immigrant Justice, sued ICE 
for “inhumane conditions” on the flight. ICE has denied the accusations, 
and litigation is ongoing.) The interference with religious practice is 
just the latest in a litany of abuses that the detainees say they’ve 
experienced at Glades. As The Intercept previously reported 
they’ve complained of violent assaults by guards, denial of medical 
care, lack of access to their lawyers, and racism. Those accusations are 
the subject of an investigation by the Department of Homeland Security’s 
Office of Inspector General. Some of the issues have yet to be resolved, 
said Lisa Lehner, an attorney at Americans for Immigrant Justice who 
filed the administrative complaint. “There are still some real, serious 
medical issues that have not been taken care of, for people who really 
need medical care,” she said. “The lack of it at this point is really 
exacerbating some of their conditions.”

    The grievances emanating from Glades are not an anomaly.

The grievances emanating from Glades are not an anomaly. Immigrants’ 
rights advocates have, for years, called for increased scrutiny of ICE 
detention centers, which operate with no independent oversight and have 
historically been riddled by allegations of abuse. An investigation 
<https://theintercept.com/2018/04/11/immigration-detention-sexual-abuse-ice-dhs/> by 
The Intercept earlier this year revealed a staggering pattern of sexual 
abuse in immigration detention, where the accused perpetrators were 
often ICE employees. The number of people detained by ICE has reached 
record highs 
President Donald Trump. The average daily population during fiscal 
year 2017 was 38,106; that number climbed to 39,322 
the first two months of the current fiscal year.

Lehner said the complaints speak to small county jails’ failure to 
adequately meet the needs of large groups of immigrant detainees. “Lack 
of respect for the religious observance is part of the global issue of 
the inability of county jails, like Glades, to properly detain large 
populations of immigrant detainees. We see this problem manifested in 
the lack of adequate medical care; the inadequate access to counsel in 
the facility; and now, the failure to respect the religious observance 
of these men,” she said. “When you think about it, these are just basic 
human needs and constitutional rights.”

The most recent complaints from Glades are about much more than Ramadan 
or religious practice, said Yusuf Saei, a fellow at Muslim Advocates. 
Abusive conditions are just one more reason for detainees to give up on 
the uphill battle to fight their deportations. (A team of pro bono 
lawyers is helping the detainees who were returned on the December 
flight to file motions to reopen their immigration cases. A number of 
those requests have been granted so far, Lehner said.)

“The day-to-day horror of one’s conditions of confinement kind of 
de-incentivizes people to fight their cases,” Saei said. “I think it’s 
kind of part of the ICE strategy to make things as difficult as 
possible, so that people want to voluntarily leave and not keep 
appealing their cases.”

_Glades has a_ Ramadan list, on which detainees must be placed if they 
wish to participate in the fast. According to the letter, which does not 
name any of the detainees, at least two men were denied placement on the 
list. One of them submitted a formal, written request to be placed on 
the list several days before the start of Ramadan. Major Keith Henson, 
an employee of the sheriff’s office who works at the jail, wrote 
“denied,” in response to the request, without offering any 
justification. Individuals detained at the facility said Henson claimed 
inclusion on the Ramadan list was limited to individuals who professed 
their religion as Islam during “in processing,” yet some detainees said 
they were not asked about their religion during processing.

Placement on the list matters because immigrant detainees’ daily habits 
are closely watched, Saei said. “Somebody who just tried to fast without 
receiving permission by being put on the list might be singled out for 
discipline or negative treatment by corrections officers,” he said. “Not 
eating during the day and not being on the Ramadan list could sort of 
single you out for that kind of discipline, and even potentially 
administrative segregation or isolation.”

    “If you’re not on the list, essentially you can’t fast, unless
    you’re going to starve.”

Detainees on the list also should be able to get an extra bagged meal in 
place of the lunch they skip, which they need so that their post-fast 
meal is nutritionally satisfying, said Sirine Shebaya, a lawyer at 
Muslim Advocates. The fast lasts about 15 hours in Moore Haven, Florida, 
where the Glades County Detention Center is located — so every bite 
counts. “It’s likely that all of the meals might be served at times that 
you’re fasting, so if you’re not on the list, essentially you can’t 
fast, unless you’re going to starve,” Shebaya said.

Ramadan is, in many ways, a community affair: People tend to gather with 
friends and family for iftar, the meal eaten to break the fast, and 
spend their nights praying together at a mosque. Immigrant detainees, 
separated from their families, are not only denied that community 
experience, but at Glades, they’re also facing discriminatory treatment 
even if they’re included on the Ramadan list, the advocates charge. 
Several of the detainees have reported that their food is not halal and 
the portions are not sufficient after a long day of fasting. Those 
observing the fast are required to eat leftover meals, which means that, 
depending on when lunch is served, the meals have possibly been out in 
the open for more than eight hours by the time of iftar. Some detainees 
reported being served food that was hard to swallow, cold, or rotten. 
“It is likely that the trays have been exposed to variable temperatures 
and humidity in Glades County, Florida and potentially to other dirt and 
germs,” reads the letter.

The issue of Ramadan accommodations is most urgent because it is 
time-sensitive, Shebaya said. She emphasized, however, that there are a 
number of other violations of detainees’ right to freely exercise their 
religion that Glades needs to address.

“Detained persons are so reliant on the rules and regulations put in 
place by the people who have custody of them,” Shebaya said. “Religious 
practice is such a fundamental value that is really being undermined in 
this facility.”

One example detailed in the letter is the difficulty in performing 
congregational prayers. Muslims hold weekly congregational prayers on 
Friday, and attendance is generally required. While some of the 
detainees have been able to hold Friday prayer services, guards 
frequently cancel the prayers without notification, or they yell at the 
worshippers to hurry up and finish.

Muslims recite passages from the Quran in Arabic while praying, and for 
those who don’t speak Arabic, an English translation is key to 
understanding the text. One detainee requested a copy of the Quran in 
both English and Arabic. He waited more than a month for the English 
translation, and he was never provided with the Arabic original. The 
chaplain later told him he could have one or the other. Another detainee 
who requested a Quran was never given one.

    “Requesting a Quran is not something that should take a month.”

“Requesting a Quran is not something that should take a month, and you 
should also not be questioned about the language in which you want that 
Quran,” Shebaya said.

Some detainees have also reported being singled out for abuse because 
they wear a kufi, a knit cap that some Muslim men wear as religious 
headgear. One man said that officers would snatch his kufi and toss it 
around, while another said he was threatened with being moved to 
segregation if he did not take his kufi off. A third man reported that 
another detainee was actually sent to segregation for wearing a kufi and 
was told that kufis are not allowed at the detention center.

The incidents at Glades are the most clearly documented, Shebaya said, 
but complaints of religious discrimination are happening throughout the 
system. One reason these excesses are happening might be that 
immigration detention centers like Glades are adjusting to a surge in 
Muslim, Arab, and South Asian populations, she noted, but it could also 
be animus toward Muslims, or a combination of both.

The detainees have relayed that their Christian counterparts at Glades 
appear to be receiving preferential treatment, the lawyers wrote in the 
letter. “At this facility, Glades County, it seems like the chaplain is 
pretty accommodating for Christian detainees,” Saei told The Intercept. 
“We’ve heard that he’s more personally involved in providing the Bible 
as soon as it’s requested.”

_The detainees’ right_ to religious observance is enshrined in detention 
standards promulgated by ICE, as well as federal and state law.

Glades operates under the 2000 National Detention Standards, which 
contain guidance on everything from use of force by guards, to detainee 
grievance procedures, to religious accommodations. Under the Religious 
Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, or RLUIPA, Glades staff is 
prohibited from substantially burdening religious exercise, unless they 
can prove there is a compelling government interest for doing so. (The 
Florida Religious Freedom Restoration Act offers similar protections.)

    The NDS require that Muslims participating in the Ramadan fast be
    given their approved meals after sundown.

Legal advocates charge that Glades has violated these protections in a 
number of ways. For example, the NDS say that a detainee can profess 
faith or change faith “at any time,” yet Henson was reportedly referring 
to the religion professed by individuals during processing. When it 
comes to meals, the NDS require that Muslims participating in the 
Ramadan fast be given their approved meals after sundown. The general 
food policy is that detainees should be served two hot meals daily, and 
that when it comes to halal or kosher meals, hot entrees should be 
provided three times a week. In the letter, the lawyers say that fasting 
Muslims should receive their afternoon and evening meals after sundown. 
If Glades is not able to accommodate the detainees’ dietary needs, it 
should “provide a compelling reason that doing so is not possible.”

The NDS specifically name kufis as a type of religious headwear that “is 
permitted in all areas of the facility, subject to the normal 
considerations of security and good order, including inspections by 
staff.” This runs contrary to the assertion in the letter that detainees 
were told they could not wear a kufi.

The 2000 NDS are the least protective standards that apply to immigrant 
detainees, which makes it all the more jarring that Glades is not 
meeting even those requirements, Saei said. (In 2011, ICE released a 
more stringent set of standards that generally is enforced at 
“dedicated” facilities, which house only ICE detainees.)

The lack of oversight of the county jails is the crux of the problem, 
Lehner said. “Without any oversight by ICE, there is really no incentive 
for a facility like Glades to do things like provide for halal meals or 
medical care beyond just a basic infirmary that gives out Advil,” she said.

In the letter, the lawyers laid out a number of demands for ICE and the 
Glades facility, including immediate access to the Ramadan list for 
Muslims who’ve been denied it and the provision of hot, nutritionally 
satisfying meals for all those who are fasting. The groups also ask for 
assurances when it comes to the provision of halal meals, scheduling and 
cancelation of Friday prayers, access to the Quran and prayer rugs, and 
an end to the discriminatory targeting of men who wear kufis.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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