(CN) — Claiming a Florida immigration detention center forces Muslim detainees to choose between pork and expired halal meals, civil rights attorneys on Wednesday urged U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to end the practice.
Lawyers with Muslim Advocates, Americans for Immigrant Justice and Atlanta-based firm King & Spalding sent a letter to ICE and the Department of Homeland Security demanding the agencies immediately stop an alleged pattern of constitutional violations at the ICE-run Krome Service Processing Center in Miami.
A religious dietary restriction that prohibits pork is a sincerely held belief in the practice of Islam. Many Muslims choose instead to eat halal meals. For a meat to be certified halal under Islamic law, it cannot be a forbidden cut — such as meat from hindquarters — or come from forbidden animals, such as pigs.
According to the letter, the immigration detention center serves pre-plated meals that regularly include pork sausage, pork ribs and other dishes containing pork to Muslim detainees, and the alternative halal options at Krome are making detainees sick.
“ICE’s persistent pattern and practice of providing pork and spoiled halal meals to Muslim detainees at Krome imposes a substantial burden on those detainees’ religious exercise, because it improperly forces those detainees to choose between engaging in conduct that seriously violates their religious beliefs or face a serious penalty,” the attorneys wrote.
Quoting the 1987 Supreme Court decision in Turner v. Safley that found “prison walls do not form a barrier separating prison inmates from the Constitution,” the groups argued that forcing Muslim ICE detainees to choose between pork and rotten halal meat violates the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA.
The groups pointed out that federal courts have found that serving expired religious meals to inmates substantially burdens their religious rights because “inmates have the right to religiously-compliant foods that sustain them in good health.”
“Moreover, serving inmates expired food violates the Eighth Amendment, which requires prison officials provide detainees with the basic necessities of life, including edible food,” the letter states.
Several Muslims at the detention center have reported illnesses such as stomach pains, vomiting and diarrhea after eating the provided rotten halal meals, according to the letter. This has been occurring for about two years, they say, despite detainees having alerted officials at the facility about the inedible food.
“The most egregious violations of the religious exercise rights of Muslim detainees at Krome—knowingly providing them with pork-based meals—run clearly afoul of their rights under the First Amendment and RFRA,” the groups wrote.
Neither ICE nor the Krome Service Processing Center could be immediately reached for comment Wednesday afternoon.
Muslim Advocates, Americans for Immigrant Justice and King & Spalding hinted at possible legal action if the issue is not addressed soon. They requested a formal response within 14 days.
“The pandemic is no excuse to needlessly violate detainees’ religious rights,” the letter states.