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Muslim Refugees Sue Florida Detention Center, ICE for Religious Freedom Violations

“Boy, you’re in Glades County” Detention Center Officials Deny Muslims Qur’ans, Religiously-Compliant Food

WASHINGTON, DC — Today, Muslim Advocates and Americans for Immigrant Justice filed a lawsuit on behalf of five Somali Muslim immigrants, held by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Florida’s Glades County Detention Center (GCDC). GCDC staff have repeatedly and gratuitously denied the men religious items, the ability to pray, religiously-compliant food and other necessities that would enable them to practice their chosen religion. ICE officials are aware of the abuse but have failed to take any remedial actions.

After the government’s attempt to deport the five men and 87 other Somalis failed, ICE shipped them to GCDC, which contracts with ICE to hold immigrants for a profit. Since their arrival at GCDC, the facility has regularly denied their requests for religious items and obstructed their attempts to practice their Muslim faith despite making similar accommodations for detainees of other faiths. The defendant entities and individuals being sued include ICE officials, Glades County Sheriff David Hardin and Glades County Chaplain John Booher—all of whom either personally violated the Muslim men’s rights to free exercise or knowingly allowed the violations to occur.

The Somali men, for example, waited more than a month for Qur’ans, which usually were not provided in the requested language. In addition, the facility has refused to serve religiously permissible, or halal, food—notably during the holy month of Ramadan—which cruelly forced them to go hungry, cobble together meals from commissary food or eat food that violates their religious beliefs. GCDC officers also regularly interrupt or stop group prayers and refuse to provide the men with essential religious items such as prayer rugs, beads or head coverings.

These arbitrary, unjustified denials to Muslim refugees stand in stark contrast to the facility’s willingness to accommodate the needs of incarcerated Christians. In fact, Chaplain Booher specifically sought out assistance to set up a Christian ministry in the facility and asked volunteers from a Christian church to provide services, Bibles and food to detainees. When the men asked for similar treatment Booher and Glades staff replied, “Boy, you’re in Glades County.”

“Glades County Detention Center is brazenly violating fundamental religious rights for no discernible reason other than to harass and demean Muslims,” said Yusuf Saei, Arthur Liman Public Interest Fellow with Muslim Advocates. “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. It is outrageous that Glades needlessly punishes and humiliates them because of their chosen faith and that ICE has knowingly allowed this to continue for over a year.”

“This lawsuit shines a spotlight on the inherent, but largely unreported flaw in our immigration detention system: ICE’s delegation of its responsibilities to remote county jails and its failure to ensure that detainees’ fundamental rights are not being abridged,” said Lisa Lehner, Director of the Litigation Program at Americans for Immigrant Justice. “ICE is clearly unable or unwilling to supervise those agencies it is already delegating to, so asking for more detention beds is irresponsible.”

Today’s complaint was filed in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida Fort Myers Division.

Muslim Advocates is a national civil rights organization working in the courts, in the halls of power and in communities to halt bigotry in its tracks. We ensure that American Muslims have a seat at the table with expert representation so that all Americans may live free from hate and discrimination.

Americans for Immigrant Justice is a non-profit law firm dedicated to promoting and protecting the basic rights of immigrants. AI Justice has served over 120,000 immigrant clients since its inception and is currently representing children who were separated from their parents.

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