The federal government has been slapped with another civil rights complaint alleging abuses against immigrants in U.S. custody, this time at a facility in Florida. More than a dozen people either currently or formerly detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the Baker County Detention Center (Baker) say in the complaint that they were subject to “frequent” physical and verbal abuse, including arbitrary punishment and racist harassment.
Specifically, the civil right complaint states that Baker staff have hurled the n-word at Black migrants, and told them that if they dislike their treatment at the facility, they should “go back where you came from,” and “go back to your country.” The complaint states that one migrant tried to report this racist abuse four times to ICE’s reporting line, “but he has not received a response.”
“Individuals detained at Baker have reported that repeated incidents of racist abuse and harassment are a systemic problem at Baker County Detention Center, which fit within a long pattern of abuse and anti-Black racism that Black immigrants experience within ICE custody, in general, and at Baker under the Miami Field Office’s oversight, in particular,” the complaint said. Among the migrants targeted was Bahamian Marlissa Joseph, who was hurled with racist abuse by a worker at the commissary office. But it was Joseph, not the worker, who then got in trouble.
“After a group of detained women complained about this staff person, on May 18, 2022, she called Ms. Joseph the N-word and attempted to assault her,” the complaint said. “Others had to hold the staff person back to prevent her from attacking Ms. Joseph. After this incident, guards threatened to place Ms. Joseph in solitary confinement for 30 days despite the fact that she was the victim of the attack. On a separate occasion, another officer also called Ms. Joseph the N-word.”
Meanwhile, Eric Martinez was punished with 45 days in individual solitary confinement (which is torture) after protesting his inhumane and violent treatment by Baker staff.
“Baker County Detention Center is a place where nobody should be held,” he said in a release. “I have witnessed and experienced firsthand how the treatment of people by officials at Baker is beyond inhumane.” Martinez, who was deported to Colombia, is now an organizer with Immigrant Action Alliance, one of the more than one dozen organizations filing the civil rights complaint on behalf of the 15 migrants.
“Individuals currently and formerly detained at Baker report that officers and guards regularly use excessive force, violence, verbal abuse, and pepper spray to arbitrarily punish, humiliate, and intimidate–often resulting in serious injury,” the complaint noted. Martinez had his nose broken by a guard, in an incident where guards rushed him and violently restrained for merely asking why one of them had aggressively grabbed at him while transporting him. During the terrifying incident, one guards placed a knee on his stomach, making it incredibly hard for him to breathe, and then put a bag over his head after breaking his nose. He would end up spending 45 days in solitary.
“It’s a living hell,” Martinez continued. “During my 10 months at Baker, I didn’t see the sun. This maximum-security jail is a place where no immigrant should be held, as this is a place where ICE and Baker County try to cover up their abuses. People should not be treated this way.”
“Individuals currently and formerly detained at Baker, along with advocates and community groups, demand the release of all people whose lives are currently being recklessly endangered at Baker and for full closure of the detention facility, in addition to a rigorous investigation in order to obtain a full and public accounting of the abusive incidents that have transpired,” the release said. Advocates applauded the bravery of whistleblowers in the complaint, including those who remained detained and at risk of retaliation.
“The eyewitness testimonies in this complaint are clear: Baker is a deadly facility,” said Rebecca Talbot, campaign organizer at Immigrant Action Alliance. “It is a place of violent abuse, hunger, thirst, medical neglect, racist harassment, and unexplained deaths. It must close immediately. And all those who bravely testified here must be swiftly released to ensure their safety.”
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