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Muslims held in US immigration detention served pork, expired halal food: Report

Two advocacy groups and international law firm have sent letter of complaint to US federal government agencies, demanding practice be stopped
Muslims pray at a protest in New York on 26 January 2018
Muslims pray at protest in New York in 2018, marking one-year anniversary of Trump administration's executive order banning travel to US from several Muslim-majority countries (AFP/File photo)
By Sheren Khalel in Tampa, Florida

Muslims being held by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Miami are "regularly" being served pork and expired halal meals, according to two rights groups that have submitted a letter of complaint on behalf of the detainees. 

Muslim Advocates, Americans for Immigrant Justice and the law firm King & Spalding LLP said in a letter on Tuesday that, since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the ICE-run Krome Service Processing Center in Miami, Florida, has been serving pre-plated meals that include pork sausage, pork ribs and other pork dishes to Muslim detainees. 

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"Because the facility's halal meals have been persistently served spoiled and expired, Krome’s Muslim detainees must choose between eating pork or eating spoiled food," Muslim Adovcates said in a statement on Tuesday. 

"At least 2-3 times a week, the pre-plated meals unambiguously include pork. Consequently, 2-3 times a week, Muslim detainees at Krome are forced to choose between faith and food," stated the letter. "There is no reason, even in a pandemic, that Muslim detainees cannot receive unexpired, unspoiled halal meals, or, at the very least, pre-plated meals that do not require them to consume pork."

According to the groups, detainees have gotten sick from the pre-packaged expired halal food, reporting stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. 

The groups demanded that ICE and the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) "immediately stop forcing Muslim detainees to choose between eating pork or rotten halal meat". 

'It is what it is'

Detainees reportedly asked the facility's chaplain for assistance in the matter, but said the chaplain responded "callously", telling them "it is what it is". 

In a statement to Middle East Eye, ICE denied the allegations, saying their standard operating policy includes "reasonable accommodation of religious dietary practices".

"Any claim that ICE denies reasonable and equitable opportunity for persons to observe their religious dietary practices is false," a spokesperson said. 

Still, the incident is one many similar accounts reported in the United States, with prisoners at state and federal facilities across the country filing scores of complaints regarding Muslims being served pork. 

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"Federal courts have found that serving expired religious meals to inmates, like those provided to Krome’s Muslim detainees, substantially burdens their First Amendment free-exercise rights, because 'inmates have the right to religiously-compliant foods that sustain them in good health'," the groups noted in Tuesday's letter. 

According to court precedent, serving inmates expired food also violates the Eighth Amendment, which requires prison officials to provide detainees with the basic necessities of life, including edible food.

Of the 163 religious freedom cases filed by Muslims in Federal Court between October 2017 and January 2019, 64 were complaints made about dietary needs.

Those cases, however, relate to prisoners who fall under the purview of the state and federal bureaus of prisons, not DHS or ICE. 

It is unclear how many Muslims are currently being held in ICE detention, but there are currently more than 80,000 Muslims in US prisons

Black Americans make up an overwhelmingly disproportionate share of the US prison population, as well as the Muslim inmate population. 

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