Immigration reform was a recurring theme in the recent presidential election. The national debate has focused on what should be done with the millions of undocumented immigrants who reside in the United States, but as events at the Krome Service Processing Center in Miami, Florida indicate, the spotlight should be on how immigrants are treated while in custody.
Krome has a long and infamous history of mistreating the people it holds for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). As reported by the Miami Herald in October 2015, the detention facility houses around 600 foreign nationals awaiting deportation or asylum hearings. Before being used to hold immigrants, Krome operated as a Cold War-era air defense base.
The most recent abuses at Krome can be attributed to a privatization contract that began in 2008. The contract paid $4 million per month to Alaska-based companies Akal and Doyton, Ltd. to manage the facility. [See: PLN, Nov. 2010, p.38].
“That’s when a lot of corrupted stuff started going on,” said Linda Booker, who worked at Krome for a dozen years.
Physical abuse by guards is a common problem. One incident reported by the Miami New Times involved a detainee with mental health problems who took a staff golf cart for a joyride of about 20 feet. Around six guards caught up with the cart and dragged the man, who was in his 20s, out of the vehicle and began pummeling him. When other detainees began protesting they were rushed inside, away from the incident.
After the beating, the detainee was taken to a local hospital. Fellow detainee Noel Covarrubia saw the man in Krome’s medical facility several days later; he had badly swollen and split lips, and one eye was still bulging.
“It was more than purple,” Covarrubia said. “Almost black.”
According to former Krome guard Avelino Abeijon, the detention officers involved in the incident were not disciplined.
The New Times obtained files from 2012 and 2013 that described 16 cases involving altercation with guards, and several included “disturbing allegations of physical abuse.”
One involved an August 11, 2013 incident in which an English-speaking detainee was goaded into saying a derogatory Spanish word to a guard by a group of Spanish-speaking detainees, inciting laughter. The guard, however, took it as an insult. He grabbed the detainee around the neck and threatened him.
“Ok, whatever you say,” the detainee responded. The guard then punched the detainee in the mouth hard enough to make him bleed. ICE ordered the termination of the guard after conducting an investigation.
Abeijon described Krome as a “factory.” He saw detainees sleeping on the floor due to overcrowding, harassment of homosexuals and guards insulting a quadriplegic detainee. When he expressed concerns, Abeijon said he experienced “a lot of passing the buck, pointing fingers and guards telling [him] to shut up and move on.”
ICE signed a new management contract for Krome in May 2014, turning it over to Alaska-based Akima Global Services, but allegations of abuse have persisted.
“There’s always going to be problems,” said immigration attorney Ira Kurzban. “Because in the end, you can call it what you want, but it’s a prison.”
On April 28, 2016, El Salvadorian detainee Jose Leonardo Lemus Rajo, 23, died after being held in ICE custody at Krome for only three days.
As reported by Immigrationimpact.com in May 2016, 159 people have died while in ICE detention centers nationwide since 2003.
In February 2016, the ACLU, National Immigrant Justice Center and Detention Watch Network released a joint report titled “Fatal Neglect: How ICE Ignores Deaths in Detention,” which, drawing from records obtained through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, examined the numbers and causes of deaths in immigration detention centers.
The report noted that nearly half the deaths were attributable to substandard medical care. It further found that, of the deaths attributable to poor medical care, three-quarters had occurred in detention facilities operated by private, for-profit contractors.
However, ICE seems to have less interest in addressing these problems than in sweeping them under the rug. As stated in the joint report, “[...] even though ICE’s own death reviews identified violations of ICE medical standards as contributing factors in these deaths, ICE detention facility inspections conducted before and after these deaths failed to acknowledge – or sometimes dismissed – the critical flaws identified in the death reviews.”
There has been pushback on the part of some detainees against the reportedly inhumane conditions and abuses at Krome.
In late November 2015, ten Bangladeshi detainees at the facility launched a hunger strike. The protest, which began on Thanksgiving day, was intended to bring national attention to the plight of political asylum seekers held in ICE detention centers. It was cut short in late December 2015 after a federal judge ordered the detainees to be force-fed through tubes inserted into their stomachs through their noses – a painful technique also used on hunger-striking detainees at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. [See: PLN, Sept. 2016, p.24].
“We came here to escape violence and danger in our country. But it seems like this place is like Guantanamo,” stated Mahmudul Hasan, one of the Krome hunger strikers. “ICE would rather force-feed hunger strikers than listen to our basic demands for freedom.”
The Bangladeshi asylum seekers had been held at Krome for more than a year prior to the commencement of their protest.
On April 25, 2016, nine Indian detainees at Krome launched another hunger strike, protesting what they believed to be unduly long periods of detention.
Speaking to India-West in May 2016, Hardeep Singh, a brother of one of the protestors, said many of the Indian asylum seekers at Krome had been awaiting hearings for as long as 18 to 24 months – despite having previously passed “credible fear” interviews intended to assess threats faced by immigrants in their home countries.
“They have risked their lives to come here, they are facing fear in their own country,” Singh told India-West. “But we treat them like criminals.”
The detainees ended their hunger strike on May 2, 2016 following assurances from ICE that they would be released on bond to family members already in the U.S. But they were not freed as promised; rather, following a hearing before a federal judge, they were once again remanded to ICE custody. The agency then returned the men to Krome where, according to Singh, some of the hunger strikers were subjected to force-feeding.
The hunger strikes at Krome are part of a larger pattern of protests at immigration detention facilities nationwide, over both conditions of confinement and lengthy periods of detention while awaiting asylum or deportation hearings. [See: PLN, Nov. 2016, p.26].
Sources: www.browardpalmbeach.com, www.miaminewtimes.com, www.miamiherald.com, www.immigrationimpact.com, www.indiawest.com
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