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Groups accuse Glades Detention Center of abuse

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Glades Detention Center in Moore Haven, Florida

A detention center in Moore Haven, Florida, is the subject of a number of complaints from members of congress … as well as immigrant advocacy organizations. They say that Glades County Detention Center has a pattern of abuse of immigrants. WGCU’s Cary Barbor has more:

Glades County Detention Center in Moore Haven, just west of Lake Okeechobee, serves as a migrant detention center under contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, commonly known as ICE. The Department of Homeland Security, which oversees ICE, has received a number of complaints about the treatment of immigrants in custody at Glades.

Silvana Caldera of the ACLU of Florida says the complaints are many.

"First and foremost, there have been over 30 civil rights complaints filed related to Glades just in the last year alone. So this is not a new issue and the content of the complaints is really far reaching and not limited to one or two human rights issues," Caldera said.

In late September, a complaint was filed on behalf of 7 Black, African immigrants, stating that county correctional officers at Glades had subjected them to abusive treatment including use of pepper spray, medical neglect, excessive use of force, and solitary confinement. The complaint was filed on behalf of a coalition of advocacy groups, including the ACLU, Freedom for Immigrants, and Immigrant Action Alliance.

Sofia Casini is with Freedom for Immigrants.

"A group of African men who were inside of Glades were very much singled out and targeted due to being black immigrants and they faced, while they were peacefully gathering in their cell together, they faced being brutally pepper-sprayed, taken to solitary confinement, and then harmed in solitary," said Casini.

Rebecca Talbot with Immigrant Action Alliance adds that this is far from an isolated incident.

"This complaint has really brutal and difficult subject matter. What happened to these men is horrific and part of a pattern of racist anti- Black violence at Glades and throughout ICE detention," Talbot said.

The coalition of groups has asked for Glades to cancel its contract with ICE. Further, they would like to see the institution shut down all together. In July, 8 members of Congress, led by Debbie Wasserman Schulz who represents parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties, also wrote to the Department of Homeland Security to request that Glades be shut down because of its history of abuse.

When reached for comment, Chief Deputy at Glades County Sheriff’s Office Duane Pottorf said that he couldn’t discuss any case under investigation, but that Glades has no intention of canceling its contract with ICE.

The DHS emailed that they have received the allegations and have opened an investigation into the matter. A representative from ICE emailed that the agency has a strict zero-tolerance policy for any kind of abusive or inappropriate behavior in its facilities and takes any allegations seriously. They went on to say that no detainee would be denied emergent care.

According to the coalition, after the complaint was filed, deportation proceedings were initiated for four of the seven men named in the complaint. The other three remained in detention.

After the groups applied pressure, three of the men headed for deportation were granted temporary holds, known as Z-holds, to allow for further investigation. One of the men chose to go ahead with his deportation. The groups say that the threat of deportation is in retaliation for filing the complaint.

Silvana Caldera of the ACLU:

"Florida is routinely among the top 10 states with the highest level of detention. Glades is one of a few facilities here and I really believe that we must do more to protect immigrants detained in our communities," Caldera said.

Freedom for Immigrants’ Sofia Casini emphasizes that all detainees deserve humane treatment.

"No matter how someone came to the U.S.  or where they came from, their life is of value and they’re worthy of fairness and justice," said Casini.

Both sides await the outcome of the investigation.

For WGCU News, I’m Cary Barbor.