Today, Earthjustice along with 13 community advocacy groups who are part of the Shut Down Glades Coalition called on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to investigate Glades County Detention Center in Moore Haven, FL for unsafe and unlawful living conditions. In a letter submitted to the federal agency, the coalition of groups expressed concerns over the misuse of highly concentrated industrial-grade chemical disinfectants in poorly ventilated living and eating spaces, harming the health of people in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody, and violating the law governing use of such products. Signatories to the letter are calling for the immediate release of those who are being harmed at Glades County Detention Center and for the EPA to investigate the illegal and unlawful use of chemicals at migrant detention centers in Glades County and across the country.
People detained at Glades are exposed to chemical disinfectants, called Mint and Maximum Neutral, multiple times a day at up to 50 times the allowed concentration. The active ingredients found in these disinfectants belong to a harmful class of chemicals called quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs), which have been linked to serious adverse health effects, including asthma, infertility, birth defects, and even DNA damage. Without the ability to avoid exposure to the chemicals, which are often sprayed in the air, those in detention have suffered shortness of breath, coughing, bloody noses, headaches, severe nausea, and an increased risk of reproductive health damage, among other chronic illnesses. According to the letter, the use of these chemicals at Glades fit into a pattern of misconduct at immigration detention centers across the United States, including two that EPA’s prior investigations found to be in violation of federal law.
“We join our coalition partners in calling on the EPA to investigate the use of toxic chemicals at the Glades County Detention Center. In the meantime, ICE must immediately release all those who remain at Glades and terminate its contract with Glades County,” said Americans for Immigrant Justice attorney, Angeliki Bouliakis Andronis. “For years, Americans for Immigrant Justice has witnessed abuse, including medical neglect, at Glades. The only solution is full closure, with those detained released to their loved ones rather than transferred or deported where they may face further harm.”
On any given day, tens of thousands of people in ICE custody are held in more than 200 immigration detention centers nationwide. People in detention centers, which are effectively prisons, are subject to overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions, racist abuse, sexual abuse, and other dehumanizing behavior. Over the last two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has only made conditions in detention worse, where it is impossible to practice social distancing. ICE has failed to release people to comply with recommended public health advice, facility operators have drastically increased their reliance on chemical disinfectants. These measures have not, however, prevented COVID-19 outbreaks at detention centers, but instead have harmed the people sprayed with or otherwise exposed to those products.
“Unfortunately, what is happening at Glades County Detention Center is just the latest instance of the continued misuse of chemicals at immigration detention centers across the United States,” said Earthjustice attorney, Dominique Burkhardt. “The EPA is responsible for enforcing the federal laws that protect people from unsafe exposure to these disinfectants that are classified as pesticides. It is EPA’s obligation to launch a full investigation into this facility and other immigration detention centers nationwide.”
“The science confirms what people in immigration detention have for years called attention to,” said Sofia Casini, director of visitation advocacy strategies at Freedom for Immigrants. “Through multiple complaints filed since the onset of the pandemic, people detained at Glades and elsewhere across the country have sounded the alarm over the misuse of these chemicals and their severe and lasting health consequences. Nobody should be subject to this unconscionable abuse a day longer. We’re calling for immediate action in the form of releases, not transfers, from Glades and other detention centers. Only then will this administration side with the fundamental rights of human dignity, health and safety.”
“Glades is a dangerous place for immigrants; it’s a place where no one should be. They treat us as if we are not human beings, like we are not welcome in this country,” said Rollin Manning, now detained at the nearby Krome ICE Processing Center, who suffered carbon monoxide poisoning while detained at Glades. Manning went on to describe a number of other environmental and medical abuses at Glades. “Before I suffered carbon monoxide exposure, I was given food that was inedible. Guards sprayed people with pepper spray; others were put in solitary confinement. It’s unbearable how I was treated there. ICE needs to shut down Glades, and everybody who is still there should be released.”
The U.S. government has shown flagrant disregard for immigrants in federal custody, most recently including forced sterilization, the misuse of chemical disinfectants at other migrant detention facilities, and severe mismanagement of COVID-19. These ongoing failures have created conditions that make it impossible to keep those in custody safe. EPA must take all enforcement measures necessary to end the abuse of people in immigration custody by holding ICE and detention center operators accountable.
Today’s letter to the EPA was submitted by Earthjustice on behalf of Americans for Immigrant Justice, Freedom for Immigrants, Southern Poverty Law Center, Immigrant Action Alliance, Respond Crisis Translation, American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, Envision Freedom Fund, HOPE CommUnity Center, Farmworker Association of Florida, Prison Ecology Project of the Human Rights Defense Center, The Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons, American Friends Service Committee Florida, and Occupy Bergen County.