PLANTATION — Members of five human-rights activist groups protested Tuesday morning, June 9, outside the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) field office against the agency’s continued detention of undocumented immigrants at the Glades County jail despite allegations that dozens have tested positive for coronavirus.
Not only that, but they also allege some who tested positive and are still having symptoms are being held together with untested inmates, risking further spread of the COVID-19 pandemic among the population behind bars. Inmates have recorded statements from the jail describing lack of medical treatment and disregard for social distancing guidelines even though staff there tell them they are following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.
The activist groups are the Friends of Miami-Dade Detainees (FMDD, which has a Facebook page under that name); the Miramar Circle of Protection; Broward for Progress; the People’s Progressive Caucus of Miami-Dade; and Florida Immigrant Coalition.
Their demands, as stated at the rally by Erika Carrillo, fiancé of Glades jail ICE detainee Roberto Martinez-Leon, a 54-year-old Cuban national, include that the Glades County Sheriff’s Office cancel its contract with ICE to detain immigrants at the Glades County Detention Center (or GCDC, the jail).
Some of the groups are also parties to federal lawsuits demanding the release of the hundreds of ICE detainees — who are also being held at the Krome Service Processing Center in Miami and Broward Transitional Center in Pompano Beach — from custody so they can receive proper medical treatment.
Judge has ordered releases
U.S. District Judge Marcia G. Cooke already ruled in one of the cases over a month ago that keeping the inmates in custody at the three centers was “cruel and unusual punishment” and ordered their immediate release. But ICE has only transferred them “among the three centers and beyond without testing them,” causing coronavirus outbreaks at detention centers in Florida and other states, according to a June 9 news release from FMDD.
The detainees’ friends group has posted a video on its page at facebook.com/Fomddorg/videos/607960269814530/ of a statement by Mr. Martinez-Leon.
In the video, he stated, about the grievances he’d been writing to jail administrators: “The responses were that they were following CDC guidelines and that if I had any discomfort to report to medical. On May 28, I was tested for COVID-19 due to the numerous people that were getting sick in here. Detainees were left in this dorm with 106-degree fever, with 103, with 105. I have all their names. I was one of them. I was given no medical attention whatsoever. I was given two Tylenols and … the guy said that was all they could do for me. They did not separate us, the ones who had the fever, from the ones who did not have the symptoms. We were still together here. On June 4, I was given my results of my test, and I was positive for COVID-19.
“We have detainees in this pod that are not being tested; however, they are cohorting with 18 of us who are positive,” Mr. Martinez-Leon went on.
Graphic script added by a narrator stated: “Over 300 people are in cohort at Glades. Sick and healthy people are being ‘quarantined’ together. Glades is one of the 10 worst detention centers (in the nation) for COVID-19 positive cases.”
The official responses from ICE and the GCDC administrator were nearly identical.
ICE spokesman Nestor J. Yglesias wrote in an email: “Since there is pending litigation on this subject, ICE cannot provide further comment. That said, lack of comment should not be construed as agreement with or stipulation to any of the allegations.”
GCSO Chief Deputy Duane Pottorff wrote: “As there is pending litigation on this subject, we are not able to speak specifically to the lawsuit as the Glades County Sheriff’s Office does not comment on pending litigation. That said, absence of a specific comment should in no way be construed as agreement to anything in a particular lawsuit.”
According to the Glades County Sheriff's Office, to date, 94 total staff have received some kind of testing, with 56 staff members testing negative, 17 positive and 24 waiting for results. Six of those who tested positive have recovered and returned to duty. One county inmate has tested positive. Two county inmates have results pending. (These numbers do not include ICE detainees housed in the facility.)
According to the ICE website, 61 ICE detainees at Glades County Correctional Facility have tested positive for COVID-19 since testing began.
The FMDD news release alleges:
Activist groups’ contentions
• A challenge is issued to the Florida congressional delegation to hold ICE accountable: “We want more than words from our elected officials,” said Bud Conlin, chairman of FMDD. “We are urging them to perform their oversight function of ICE. This government agency behaves as if it can act with total impunity. Our representatives must make them answer for their utter disregard for human life.”
• “As of Thursday, June 4, the entire detained population of 320 people had been exposed, 61 people had tested positive, and one person had been hospitalized. ICE has not provided details on whether the other 259 have been tested.”
• “FMDD has filed 36 release requests for individuals at Glades with serious risk factors like asthma, HIV, congestive heart failure, and more. To date, only two of those individuals have been released.”
• “On May 21, ICE revealed in federal court that 336 out of the 338 individuals detained there at the time had been exposed to the virus and that a sheriff’s deputy had tested positive.”
• “On May 25, FMDD began receiving ‘multiple reports about people suffering from fevers, some in excess of 104 degrees,’ and the jail went on lockdown, ‘with each dorm becoming quarantined,’ FMDD Executive Director Wendy King said.”
Of Mr. Martinez-Leon, “He shouldn’t have gotten sick,” says his fiancé Erika Carrillo. “They didn’t follow the protocols to keep him from getting sick. They transferred him somewhere else instead of releasing him. We want him home, we want him free, so we can take better care of him.”