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Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) questions witnesses during a U.S. House Foreign Affairs' Committee's Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill May 16, 2019. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Demanding 'Full Accountability,' Lawmakers Call for Probe Into Claims ICE Gave Muslim Detainees a Choice: Spoiled Food or Pork

"This is the latest betrayal of religious liberty by Trump and a reminder of the inhumanity of ICE detention."

Lisa Newcomb

Following multiple reports that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) employees offered Muslim detainees the choice between expired food and pork dishes, lawmakers Monday called on the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the agency, to investigate.

"It is unconscionable Muslim ICE detainees were reportedly forced to choose between eating pork or rotten halal food," Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) said in a tweet Monday. "This is the latest betrayal of religious liberty by Trump and a reminder of the inhumanity of ICE detention."

In the letter signed by Omar, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.), and 26 other U.S. House members, the lawmakers cite a previous letter from Muslim Advocates and Americans for Immigrant Justice last month that called for an investigation into what the groups called an "unlawful pattern of religious discrimination" at the Krome Service Processing Center in Miami.

The advocacy groups wrote in their letter that "during the pandemic, ICE officers at Krome 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."

Citing a history of allegations of detainee rights violations, the coalition of congressional representatives asked DHS to investigate not only the Krome facility, but any facility with "significant numbers of detainees requiring religious accommodations," and to give a list of those facilities "including the numbers of detainees requiring religious accommodations, disaggregated by religion, at each of them."

According to HuffPost, ICE has denied the allegations, telling the news outlet, "Performance-Based National Detention Standards cover all aspects of detention to include reasonable accommodation of religious dietary practices."

In a press release in August, Muslim Advocates—who, in February 2019 sued the Florida ICE facility for violating detainees' religious rights—shared an image of expired food labels obtained from a detainee at the Krome facility, and noted in their letter to officials that detainees who ate the expired food experienced "stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea."

Lawmakers pointed to these reports and others in their request Monday:

The allegations that Muslim detainees were given a "choice" to violate their religious tenets by eating pork, or offered spoiled halal food as a substitute, are outlined in detail in a letter sent to your office by Muslim Advocates on August 18, 2020. While ICE has publicly denied the allegations, every aspect of the allegations has documented precedent. Given the history of religious freedom violations across ICE detention facilities, including violations affecting Muslim, Catholic, Jewish, and Hindu detainees we find the allegations of targeted violations of Muslim civil rights to be credible.

Furthermore, given a history of dangerously poor food quality in ICE detention facilities, including those enumerated in a February, 2019 DHS Office of the Inspector General report regarding the detention facility in Essex, New Jersey, we find the allegation that the "reasonable accommodation" provided to detainees at Krome may have included spoiled religiously compliant food alternatives to be credible.

As you are no doubt aware, forcing Muslim detainees to choose between eating pork and eating spoiled halal food would be a clear violation of ICE's 2011 Performance-Based National Detention Standards. They would also be clear violations of the civil rights and civil liberties of Muslim detainees.

Journalist and podcast host Phillip Picardi noted systemic issues surrounding ICE's treatment of detainees is bigger than the latest complaint. Tweeting excerpts of a podcast titled "Why Are Muslims Starving in ICE Detention," Picardi cited Nimra Azimi, an attorney for Muslim Advocates:

Picardi also interviewed immigration reporter Aura Bogado, who said the misinformed notion that ICE detainees are criminals adds to their mistreatment. "There's an automatic notion that people [in ICE custody] are serving hard time," Bogado told Picardi.

"People in immigrant detention are being held on civil matters—there's no alleged crime. You yourself are not a crime for existing," Bogado said.

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