Originally Published in the Miami Herald
Monique O. Madan - August 24, 2020
Muslim immigration detainees in Miami say they are being forced to choose between eating pork or rotten halal meat — food prepared following Islamic religious law — according to a letter sent to immigration officials at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security late last week.
The seven-page document was sent by lawyers and advocates at two non-profit organizations—Muslim Advocates and Americans for Immigrant Justice, as well as national immigration law firm, King & Spalding. In it, they say that since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, the Krome detention center in Southwest Miami-Dade has been serving Muslim detainees pre-plated meals that regularly include pork sausage, pork ribs and other dishes containing pork, which is forbidden under Islamic religious law.
“Although ICE officers at Krome have long been aware of the Muslim detainees’ faith-based dietary restrictions... at least two to three times a week, the pre-plated meals unambiguously include pork,” the letter said.
It continued: “Consequently, Muslim detainees at Krome are forced to choose between faith and food.”
In interviews with the Miami Herald, Muslim detainees said they have suffered stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea from the spoiled meals, saying ICE officials at Krome have repeatedly ignored their pleas for edible, religiously compliant food. In some instances detainees said the facility’s chaplain has responded: “It is what it is.”
“Now, you do not know if you are eating pork because they rarely say what they are serving. You are not told what the food is when they hand it to you,” one detainee said. “There is no menu posted in the pod. If you do find out that you are being served pork, there is nothing you can do about it, and you don’t get to eat meat that meal.”
Said another: “The halal food messes with my stomach. The halal meals they serve are a chili gravy substance that comes out of a plastic package and looks like dog food. I have tried to send it back and ask for something else, but they say they have nothing else to give me. So I often go without eating.”
The detainees agreed to the interviews under the condition of anonymity because of fear of retribution by ICE.
“There is no reason, even in a pandemic, that Muslim detainees cannot receive unexpired, unspoiled halal meals, or, at the very least, pre-plated meals that do not require them to consume pork,” lawyers and advocates told federal officials in their letter, which demanded that Muslim immigration detainees at all ICE facilities get immediate access to non-rotten edible food that does not violate their faith.
ICE spokesman Nestor Yglesias responded in a statement saying the agency’s national detention standards include “accommodation of religious dietary practices.”
But the complaints about Muslim detainees being served rotten or expired halal meals predate the pandemic, the letter says.
“If you put a grievance in the box, no one picks them up, and you never get the grievance back. And speaking to the chaplain didn’t fix the situation either,” one detainee said.
“This mistreatment is part of a broader practice at Krome of disregarding the well-being and constitutional rights of detainees in ICE’s care,” the letter said. “By habitually serving Muslim detainees pork and spoiled, expired, and cold halal meals, ICE officers at Krome have violated Muslim detainees’ rights under the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.”
ICE denied all allegations and pointed to the agency’s policies:
“All facilities shall provide detainees requesting a religious diet a reasonable and equitable opportunity to observe their religious dietary practice, within the constraints of budget limitations and the security and orderly running of the facility, by offering a common fare menu,” the policy says.
“While each request for religious diet accommodation is to be determined on a case-by-case basis, ICE anticipates that facilities will grant these requests unless an articulable reason exists to disqualify someone for religious accommodation or the detainee’s practice poses a significant threat to the secure and orderly operation of the facility. “