A Florida immigration facility has repeatedly served pork-based and expired halal meals to Muslim detainees throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, forcing them to choose between religion and nourishment.
Detainees at the Krome Service Processing Center, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in Miami, were given the choice of pre-packaged pork-based meals or expired halal meals at least two to three times a week, according to a letter sent to ICE and the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) by Muslim Advocates, Americans for Immigrant Justice, and the law firm King & Spalding LLP.
Complaints have been willfully ignored by ICE staff, and the facility chaplain reportedly dismissed detainees’ requests saying, “It is what it is.”
Several of Krome’s 440 detainees are Muslim. Some inmates have claimed that the practice of serving Muslim detainees at Krome inedible and religiously impermissible meals dates back to at least 2017.
Prior to the pandemic, detainees were able to choose meals at a cafeteria. Since the pandemic, the facility switched to a “satellite-feeding program” where meals are served pre-portioned and pre-plated in the housing units.
“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 letter said.
“Many have suffered illness, like stomach pains, vomiting, and diarrhea, as a result.”
The civil rights organisations demand that the agencies “immediately remedy the discriminatory treatment suffered by detainees at Krome and other ICE detention facilities across the country” and that Muslim detainees are provided meals that are safe to eat and religiously compliant.
They write that ICE is violating Muslim detainees’ rights under the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prohibits any US government agency, department, or official from obstructing the exercise of a person’s religion.
The groups also call for training and disciplining of staff involved in the “systemic denial of detainees’ rights” at the Krome facility.
The case has sparked outrage from some Democrat politicians.
New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that the “horrifying ICE reports are not one-off incidents” and that “ICE is structured on dehumanization.”
Representative Judy Chu from California called the incident “a disgusting outrage” and that “Donald Trump and Republicans claim they care about freedom of religion, but that has always been code for discrimination.”
Despite making up only 1 percent of the US population, Muslims are overrepresented in the total US prison population, making up 9 percent of inmates.
The violations at Krone facility are not the first occasion of Muslim detainees being forced to eat dietary-restricted meals.
In 2019, Texas border patrol officers fed pork to a Muslim detainee for six days.
Earlier this month, the Arizona Department of Corrections dropped its Kosher menu that was used by both its Jewish and Muslim inmates.
Out of the 163 Muslim prisoner federal lawsuits pertaining to religious freedoms filed by Muslim Advocates between October 2017 and January 2019, 64 complaints – nearly 40 percent – were related to dietary needs.
ICE and DHS did not respond at this time to TRT World’s request for comment on the allegations.