Nine Black immigrants currently jailed at a Florida detention facility with a long history of inhumane conditions have filed a civil rights complaint with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL), exposing continued abuses at the Krome North Service Processing Center, including outright flouting of COVID-19 protocols and a pattern of anti-Black racism that’s endangering their lives.
“An officer has died of COVID-19, and another officer is in critical condition on a ventilator,” one detained immigrant said in documents. “I am currently in a pod where a lot of people are infected with COVID-19 and spreading it rapidly to other people. We are not able to social distance. We have masks, but they haven’t been cleaned, and we’ve had them for weeks.” A second detained immigrant said people “in this dorm are displaying COVID-19 symptoms and are really sick. There is no proper sanitation and no testing being done, either.”
“The group of nine Black immigrants making the complaint point to racial disparities in custody decisions, reporting that among the few immigrants who are released, none are Black,” the UndocuBlack Network, Haitian Bridge Alliance, National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, and Freedom for Immigrants said in a joint statement. “And despite a federal court order directing [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] ICE to consider the release of people with risk factors for severe COVID-19 complications, ICE has failed to comply, endangering the lives of those detained at Krome.”
“Decisions regarding release and parole are supposed to be made on an individualized, case by case basis, after consideration of numerous factors including whether the person is a flight risk, dangerous to the community, has medical impairments, and has cooperated with efforts to obtain travel documents,” groups said in the complaint. “However, the nine Black immigrants making this complaint report that only Cubans are being released from custody at Krome North Service Processing Center.”
The organization said that many detained immigrants have been speaking out about these abuses through Freedom for Immigrants’ free hotline, which ICE initially tried to shut down but must now keep running for at least another five years following a lawsuit. The complaint makes clear why officials fought so hard to cut off this vital line of communication.
“On August 23, 2021, an anonymous caller reported to the Freedom for Immigrants hotline that Krome North Service Processing Center is mixing people who are COVID-19 positive with those who are not,” the complaint said. Another caller reported “that a lot of the staff at Krome Detention Center are not vaccinated and therefore are spreading COVID-19 throughout the facility.” A third caller said they “did not receive proper medical care, PPE, or COVID-19 tests. I saw someone bleeding from his mouth, and the facility didn’t’ do anything to care for him.”
Krome and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have already faced civil rights complaints about anti-Black abuses. Earlier this year, a Haitian man filed a complaint “alleging that he was severely beaten and put in a chokehold after being slammed to the ground by prison guards at the Krome detention center,” Miami Herald reported. “Herby ‘Herb’ Yves Pierre-Gilles says he was in a cell getting treatment for mental health problems in December when the alleged assault took place.” He told Miami Herald that “[o]ne of the biggest issues that [is] usually swept under the rug and hardly ever brought to the public’s attention is the physical abuse and mistreatment us immigrants received by the hands of the same government officials who took oaths to protect us.”
It’s a systemic issue: Black immigration groups recently filed a complaint about the mistreatment of Haitians by Border Patrol at the southern border, saying “[t]he photos that we are seeing are one example of the horrendous mistreatment that all immigrants face, but especially Black immigrants in custody.” And while tens of thousands of Afghan refugees have been welcomed to the U.S, Haitians have been denied their fundamental asylum rights under the unsound Title 42 policy criticized by the U.N. More than 7,200 Haitians have been deported on 67 flights in just 17 days, per CBS News.
“This new complaint unequivocally demonstrates that DHS, much like state and local law enforcement agencies, has an endemic and foundational anti-Blackness problem,” UndocuBlack Network Interim Policy and Advocacy Director Breanne Palmer said. “Whether DHS’s violence is highly public at the border, or behind closed doors in detention, we understand how devastating interacting with DHS can be for Black immigrants.”
Advocates recently held a national day of action urging the Biden administration to keep to its promises on a more humane system and shift away from detention to instead focus on communities. “This complaint adds to the growing chorus of demands for accountability and reparations for Black immigrants and all immigrants subjected to these monstrous acts,” Palmer continued. “Although the Biden administration has inherited a wicked system, the responsibility to immediately dismantle this system falls squarely on this administration’s shoulders. We expect nothing less.”