FT. MYERS, Fla. (CN) — Five Muslims accused immigration officials at a Florida detention facility of denying them access to the Quran and restricting prayer in a federal lawsuit filed Wednesday.
“Glades County Detention Center is brazenly violating fundamental religious rights for no discernible reason other than to harass and demean Muslims,” Yusuf Saei of Muslim Advocates said in a statement. “Needlessly restrictive detention conditions such as these also pressure immigrants to give up on their cases and accept deportation rather than wait for an outcome in their underlying immigration case.”
In Wednesday’s suit, five Somali men who fled their home country years ago in the midst of a civil war claim detention center staff repeatedly refused to provide religious materials, such as Qurans, prayer rugs and head coverings, for several weeks after their arrival. They also say officers delayed or cancelled prayer services and served food they could not eat without violating their religious edicts.
According to the lawsuit, other detention centers in the U.S. make proper accommodations for Muslim inmates.
The detention center’s chaplain did eventually provide Qurans to the men, but only in English, the 35-page complaint says. A former detainee gifted some prayer rugs to them, which the detention center only allows them to use on Fridays, according to the lawsuit. Many Muslims believe they must pray five times a day using the rugs.
The men also accused the chaplain of giving preferential treatment to Christian detainees, who received additional ministry from outside groups.
When asked why Muslims were not afforded the same courtesy, the chaplain and staff replied, “Boy, you’re in Glades County,” the lawsuit states.
Lisa Lehner, director of litigation at Americans for Immigrant Justice, criticized ICE’s supervision of small detention centers like GCDC.
“This lawsuit shines a spotlight on the inherent, but largely unreported flaw in our immigration detention system: ICE’s delegation of its responsibilities to remote county jails and its failure to ensure that detainees’ fundamental rights are not being abridged,” she said in a statement.
The men, who range in age from 26 to 47, were part of a group of more than 90 Somalis detained for immigration charges and other crimes and set to be deported in December 2017. However, the government’s chartered plane turned back to the U.S. after a relief flight crew could not finish the journey.
The detainees were then transferred to immigration facilities in South Florida, including GCDC.
The deportation flight was the subject of another federal lawsuit filed last year, which claims the detainees were shackled for days without access to restrooms and that agents beat them en route.
Civil rights organizations Americans for Immigrant Justice and Washington D.C.-based Muslim Advocates filed the current lawsuit in Ft. Myers federal court on behalf of Yasin Abdulkadir, Noor Abiyow, Abdikadir Gure, Ismael Abdirashed Mohamed and Aweys Muhudin.
The current suit names as defendants U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Glades County Sheriff David Hardin, the detention center’s chaplain and other immigration officials.
ICE and the Glades County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.