Noa Wollstein for Forward

USA Today

Civil rights organizations and law firms sent out a letter earlier today threatening legal action against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) following complaints that Muslim detainees are being denied edible, halal meals at a Florida detention center.

“During the pandemic, ICE officers at Krome [Service Processing Center] have repeatedly served pork or pork-based products to Muslim detainees, contrary to the detainees’ sincerely held religious belief that they are forbidden from consuming pork,” said the letter. “Muslim detainees have been forced to accept these meals, because the religiously compliant or halal meals that ICE has served have been persistently rotten and expired.”

According to the authors of the letter — Muslim Advocates, King & Spalding LLP, and Americans for Immigrant Justice — expired halal meals at the detention center have caused Muslim detainees to experience symptoms including “stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea.”

Spoiled halal meals have been reported at Krome since 2017 and many inmates have long since avoided them by eating pork-free food from the cafeteria. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has led the detention center to close the cafeteria and instead distribute pre-packaged meals that regularly include pork.

“At least 2-3 times a week, the pre-plated meals unambiguously include pork,” said the letter. “Consequently, 2-3 times a week, Muslim detainees at Krome are forced to choose between faith and food.”

Though detainees have reported the issue to ICE staff, the letter claimed that their complaints have not been addressed and, in some cases, were outright dismissed. A detention center chaplain, for example, was cited as responding to the grievances by saying, “It is what it is.”

ICE has been accused of failing to accommodate detainees’ religious dietary restrictions numerous times in the past. Earlier this month, Jewish activists spoke out on behalf of a woman in ICE custody who was denied kosher food while in detention, contributing to a 60-pound weight loss that jeopardized her health. The public outcry ultimately led to her release.

Allegations of religious discrimination in ICE facilities prompted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) called for an investigation into the first amendment violations in 2019.

“We are deeply concerned that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are routinely violating immigrants’ religious liberty rights,” wrote the ACLU. “Border Patrol denies detained immigrants food that complies with their religious beliefs.”