Growing number of lawmakers join immigrants and advocates’ demand to shut down Glades County Detention Center amid ongoing human rights abuses
WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a new letter addressed to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, a group of 17 members of the U.S. House urged the Biden administration to immediately close the Glades County Detention Center (Glades), an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) prison located in Moore Haven, Florida, recently subject to investigation by the civil rights division.
“People’s lives continue to be in danger every minute that the Glades Detention Center remains open,” reads the letter from the group of lawmakers, led by Representative Debbie Wasserman Shultz. Since congressional leaders first demanded the closure of the detention center in July of 2021, a disturbing pattern of human rights abuses has continued to plague the prison, with 15 civil rights complaints having been filed during the Biden administration alone.
Among the abuses rampant at Glades, immigrants have been subject to racist abuse, often resulting in verbal abuse and violence; sexual abuse, including sexual voyeurism by guards who have watched women shower; life-endangering COVID-19 and medical neglect, including a near-fatal carbon monoxide leak last November; and regular exposure to highly dangerous levels of a toxic disinfectant chemical spray linked to severe medical harms and long-term damage to reproductive health.
“I commend the Biden Administration’s attempts to raise standards at this abysmal immigrant detention center. However, credible new reports indicate that dangerous, inhumane conditions still persist, including new allegations of racially-motivated verbal and physical threats, and accusations of deleted surveillance video footage,” Rep. Wasserman Schultz said. “Immigrants detained at Glades still confront violence, substandard medical care, and a litany of hygiene, sanitation and COVID concerns. While it’s a nightmare for people housed there, taxpayers would be similarly insulted by this detention center’s scandalous history of flouting court orders and generating widespread criticism over its poor conditions, all while operating at a low capacity. This ICE prison deserves nothing more than a speedy closure.”
“The guards treat you however they want because nobody will say anything to them,” said one man who was previously detained at Glades and wishes to be identified as E.E. “They treated us like we were less than human. I was a victim of abuse at Glades; I know how hard it can be there.”
E.E. came forward as a complainant in a September 2021 civil rights complaint documenting egregious abuse of Black immigrants. He’s now free from ICE custody. “If Glades is closed, the people who are there now should be released,” continued E.E. “People need to be with their families. They should not be put in a situation where they are put in danger. ICE should release them to their families.”
"The patterns of abuse and neglect at Glades make it a death trap, and it must be closed immediately and permanently," said Rebecca Talbot, Glades lead at Immigrant Action Alliance, a group based in Florida. "People have died here. Countless others suffer severe long-term health damage from the endless abuse, incompetence and neglect. The Biden administration has failed immigrant communities when it comes to detention and deportation. It's time to change paths by closing immigrant prisons like Glades and ending detention so that people can pursue their immigration cases from the safety of their homes and communities."
“The time has come for the Biden administration to finally put a stop to the unconscionable human rights abuses inflicted upon immigrants in Glades County,” said Sofia Casini, director of visitation advocacy strategies with Freedom for Immigrants. “The mountain of evidence is undeniable. Yet every time people bravely speak out about the abuses they endure, they face unchecked harm in retaliation from ICE and prison officials. Instead of heeding the calls for closure from people in detention, Florida communities and even congressional leaders, this administration has outrageously continued to pay for unused bed space, essentially propping up this abusive prison. After a year of inaction, we call on the administration to make good on its campaign promises by closing Glades and releasing the remaining people inside to their families. It is high time the administration embraces the values of fairness, dignity and freedom.”
In urging DHS to close the detention center, the lawmakers joined a growing coalition of immigrants, Florida communities and organizations calling for closure. Organizations supporting the Shut Down Glades Coalition include Americans for Immigrant Justice, Immigrant Action Alliance, Freedom for Immigrants, American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, Doctors for Camp Closure, Detention Watch Network, Southern Poverty Law Center, United We Dream, QLatinx, Florida Immigrant Coalition, Legal Aid Service of Broward County, American Friends Service Committee, University of Miami School of Law Immigration Clinic, Community Hotline for Incarcerated People, and the Farmworker Association of Florida.
Glades County first entered into a contract with DHS in 2006, and in March of this year, the 300 person minimum payment clause of the detention contract will be up for renewal. As of Monday, fewer than 15 people were detained at Glades. The Shut Down Glades Coalition urges the Biden administration to release, not transfer, those who remain at Glades and act now to permanently close the detention center before more are harmed.