Critics Raise Medical Abuse Alarms At Fla. Detention Center

By Alyssa Aquino
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Law360 (February 23, 2021, 5:13 PM EST) -- Advocacy groups have accused a Florida detention center of failing to safeguard immigrant detainees from COVID-19, leveling claims of medical negligence and a refusal to evaluate and release those especially vulnerable to the virus.

In a Monday complaint to the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, nine immigrant rights groups called for a full investigation into the Glades County Detention Center, which is managed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Miami Field Office and the Glades County Sheriff's Office.

The complaint, which was also addressed to DHS' Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, called for an end to ICE's detention contract with Glades County and the immediate release of the 300 immigrants held at the facility.

"We file this complaint in an attempt to secure immediate oversight preventing additional deaths and long term health consequences of those whose civil rights are being violated," the organizations wrote in the complaint.

Sofia Casini, a director at Freedom for Immigrants, one of the signatories to the complaint, told Law360 on Tuesday that her organization has been documenting medical abuse at the facility for years.

"In no uncertain terms, Glades have proven themselves repeatedly of not being capable of caring for people in their custody," Casini said. "We're urging … CRCL and OIG to shut down that facility and to release everyone from their care into the care of families and communities."

The complaint is based on eyewitness testimony from 25 former and current detainees, most of whom provided their accounts anonymously.

However, some of the testimony derives from June declarations submitted to U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke, the Florida judge overseeing litigation seeking to empty three detention centers while the pandemic continues, including the Glades County Detention Center.

Judge Cooke ordered ICE to improve conditions at the centers in June after hearing claims that detainees lacked sufficient supplies of personal protective gear and hygiene materials like soap. Following a June 25 hearing where detainees testified that ICE's efforts to protect them were still falling short, Judge Cooke appointed an outside attorney to monitor ICE's compliance with the order.

But immigration advocacy groups who interviewed detainees again in January 2021 say that conditions in Glades haven't improved ⁠— and that OIG and DHS should seriously consider shutting the facility down.

The Monday complaint contains allegations that Glades officials kept individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 or exhibited virus symptoms in "pods" with otherwise healthy detainees and accusations that officials refused to test detainees experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. The complaint also includes allegations that Glades officials were refusing to evaluate and offer medical treatment to individuals experiencing other illnesses, such as severe asthma.

Casini stressed reports of the denial of diagnoses on Tuesday, pointing out that ICE was required under a California court order to evaluate and release immigrant detainees at higher risk of dying from COVID-19 complications.

On July 11, 2020, Onoval Perez-Montufar died of complications from COVID-19 while detained at Glades. His death is the only COVID-19 related fatality ICE reported at the center, according to ICE statistics.

A representative for ICE's Miami Field Office declined to comment on Tuesday. The Glades County Sheriff's Office didn't respond to requests for comment.

--Editing by Jill Coffey.

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