“Seven immigrant women held at a remote immigration detention center in Florida filed a complaint with federal officials, shedding light on an appalling pattern of abuses including sexual abuse by guards and a psychiatrist amounting to violations of the Prison Rape Elimination Acts (PREA), exposure to a highly toxic chemical spray, life-threatening medical neglect, violations of COVID-19 safety protocols, and racist and degrading treatment.
Advocates are calling for the immediate release of everyone at Glades County Detention Center (GCDC) in Glades County, Florida, and for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to immediately terminate the Intergovernmental Services Agreement (IGSA) with the county. The complaint was submitted with the assistance of Americans for Immigrant Justice, Immigrant Action Alliance, and Freedom for Immigrants. More than 20 other local and national groups signed on to the complaint.
The women in the complaint report threatening behavior at the facility, such as unannounced entries by male guards into their living area and sexual voyeurism by the guards who watch the women shower, which constitutes sexual abuse according to PREA and violations of ICE policy. Additionally, a psychiatrist is using his authority to sexually harass immigrant women at the facility, according to several of the women in the complaint.
Women also report a myriad of disturbing health abuses including regular exposure to a class of toxic, industrial-grade disinfectant spray. The chemical, HDQ Neutral, is linked to harmful health effects and infertility. Immigrants detained at GCDC can’t escape the ‘gray clouds’ of the chemical as it’s sprayed in unventilated rooms, leading to headaches, coughing, and difficulty breathing. ‘Last night, they were spraying a chemical, and it’s not fair,’ said one woman in the complaint who chose to remain anonymous due to ICE’s pattern of retaliation. ‘Yesterday, we were coughing a lot because we couldn’t take the vapor and smell of the chemical.’
The complaint details other medical abuses such as life-endangering neglect and reckless violations of basic COVID-19 safety protocols.
‘If they aren’t going to treat us [for our medical issues], we want to be free,’ said Petrona Lopez, one of the women coming forward to call for releases and an end to the abuses. ‘We have our families; we aren’t alone. I have my older children who can help me access care.’
ICE told Lopez that she had been transferred to GCDC to receive physical therapy. But three months later, she has still not received treatment. ‘At first, an ICE officer told me, ‘there is no physical therapy in here. You all are just passing by, because we will deport you soon.’ And so, I haven’t gotten physical therapy. To be honest, I am desperate because my leg hurts so much. This is an injustice they are doing to us.’
Anti-Blackness, Islamophobia, and racist treatment run rampant in the facility. The complaint includes examples of how guards frequently shout racial slurs and use degrading, xenophobic language, in addition to the use of violence. The women report overall unsanitary and intolerable conditions including rotten food, yellow drinking water that forces them to drink from the sinks, pest infestations, and lack of access to toilet paper.
‘Women at Glades – who are mothers, sisters, daughters, and valued community members – are subject to these egregious and nauseating abuses daily,’ said Sofia Casini, director for visitation advocacy strategies with Freedom for Immigrants. ‘Nearly 30 complaints have been filed to address abuses at Glades since the onset of the pandemic alone, yet the abuses continue. Enough! It’s clear these abuses are endemic, and until everyone is released and Glades is closed for good, immigrants will continue to be mistreated in ways that undermine our shared values of fairness, dignity, and human rights. It’s past time for releases and closure.”
‘These powerful women have been subjected to unspeakable harassment and abuse at the hands of ICE and Glades staff,’ said Andrea Ruiz-Sorrentini, outreach paralegal with the Southern Poverty Law Center.’Everyday it grows clearer that Glades and facilities like it should be shut down immediately as they are clearly incapable of operating without violating the rights of those detained as well as U.S. and international laws. Swift action must be taken to end immigration detention and those detained by ICE must be safely released.’
‘The seven women currently in detention at Glades are showing immense courage by speaking out about horrific conditions they’ve been subjected to while in detention,’ said Maria Bilbao, Florida deportation defense organizer with United We Dream.‘Their stories continue to highlight the reality that all immigrants have to fear in detention centers across the country and at the hands of ICE and CBP. Everyone who is currently detained at Glades must be released to be with friends and family, and Glades County Detention Center must be shut down immediately! Unfortunately, these conditions are widespread, and so beyond those in detention at Glades, all immigrants in detention centers across the country must be released and spared from conditions like this.’
Alarmingly, ICE transferred more than 100 people into GCDC in the past two months. In addition to releases and closure, the groups are calling for an immediate halt to transfers into the facility and for an investigation into the sexual and medical abuses at GCDC from the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and Office of Inspector General and the PREA Joint Intake Center.
Last month, eight members of Congress joined the call for closure, urging DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to immediately close the detention center in the face of ongoing abuses and unsafe conditions.”
Read more at Freedom for Immigrants.