CORONAVIRUS

Immigrant Detention Center Fed Muslims Pork During Pandemic, Activists Say

When Muslim immigrants complained to ICE staff and Krome’s chaplain, they were repeatedly ignored, and the chaplain told them, “it is what it is."

A Florida immigration facility repeatedly served pork to Muslim detainees despite the fact the immigrants did not consume pork in accordance with their faith, several civil rights organizations said on Wednesday. 

Detainees at the Krome Service Processing Center, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement 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 to ICE sent by Muslim Advocates, Americans for Immigrant Justice and the law firm King & Spalding LLP. Several dozen of Krome’s nearly 440 detainees are Muslim. 

The pork meals violated the immigrants’ religious practices ― but the expired halal meals made them sick. Those who ate the expired meals consequently suffered from “stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea,” according to the letter. 

“ICE is choosing to act in a way that not only hurts the rights of these people to practice their faith, while in detention, which is legally protected but also hurts their health,” said Nimra Azmi, staff attorney at Muslim Advocates and one of the signatories on the letter. “It puts them in a place where they’re not able to eat food that can fully sustain them in the middle of a pandemic.” 

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Muslim detainees were able to choose their meals at a cafeteria. But the facility switched to prepackaged meals when it suspended large gatherings to limit the spread of the virus. When Muslim immigrants complained to ICE staff and Krome’s chaplain, they were repeatedly ignored, and the chaplain told them, “it is what it is,” Azmi told HuffPost. 

An ICE spokesperson told HuffPost that its “Performance-Based National Detention Standards cover all aspects of detention to include reasonable accommodation of religious dietary practices” and that claims stating otherwise were “false.”

DHS did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment on the allegations.  

Despite making up only 1% of the U.S. population, Muslims make up about 9% of the total U.S. prison population. In some states, such as Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, that number is higher than 20%.

This is is not the first time Muslim detainees were forced to eat pork at various American facilities. Out of the 163 Muslim prisoner-related federal lawsuits pertaining to religious freedoms filed by Muslim Advocates between October 2017 and January 2019, 64 complaints, or nearly 40%, were about dietary needs. 

FILE PHOTO: Foreign nationals at the Krome detention center in Miami in September 2015.
FILE PHOTO: Foreign nationals at the Krome detention center in Miami in September 2015.

Earlier this month, the Arizona Department of Corrections dropped its kosher menu used by both Jewish and Muslim inmates to meet their religious dietary needs. In June, Muslim inmates at a Virginia prison did not receive meals on time needed to fast during the holy month of Ramadan. In 2019, border patrol officers fed pork to a Muslim detainee in Texas. That same year, the Alaska Department of Corrections settled a lawsuit and agreed to serve Muslim inmates two hot meals a day during the month of Ramadan. 

The Florida case sparked outrage from advocates and politicians alike. Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) 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.” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that Wednesday’s reports were “horrifying” and “not one-off incidents” and that “ICE is structured for dehumanization.”

In the letter sent Wednesday to ICE, the groups demanded that the agencies immediately stop forcing Muslim detainees to choose between eating pork or expired halal meat and noted that it was a clear violation of federal law and First Amendment rights.

“When [the Muslim detainees] tried to go through all the channels for the facility, they’re being dismissed, ignored, and dehumanized,” Azmi told HuffPost.