by Greg Mullaley
Two or three years ago I wrote to tell all of you about some wonderful people who call themselves Baker Interfaith Friends (see tinyurl.com/Iguana1474).
Twice a month a couple of car loads of volunteers would travel the hour north to the Baker County Detention Center where people are being detained by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) pending deportation hearings.
We would visit with as many detainees as possible, but we were allowed only 15 minutes per person before we had to move onto others who desperately want to talk to someone on the outside. At times there were more detainees signed up to talk to us than we had people to speak with them. Our aim was to let these people know that they are not forgotten and that there are people on the outside who care about their well-being.
These visits came to a stop during the pandemic, yet some of our people were able to visit with some of detainees remotely. It was during the pandemic that many continued to complain about the poor quality of the food, lack of sanitation, disrespect from the guards and staff, and medical neglect (read more on the inhumane conditions and a other abuses at tinyurl.com/Iguana1475).
Since 2020, over 85 complaints have been filed about Baker with intimidation and harassment, access to counsel, and medical neglect being the top abuses detailed, according to the Florida Detention Database. It was this continued treatment that led to a hunger strike this past spring, which caught the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union. They began an investigation into Baker County and other jails ICE was using, and their finding of the detainees’ complaints appeared to be valid.
Since many of the allegations have become public, some progress has been made. At Baker the detainees are now allowed outside for exercise where before they couldn’t even see outside. But now many of these people are waiting longer, sometimes a year or more, for their cases to be heard. These are men and women who were living and working in their local communities when they were picked up for nonviolent offenses.
Almost all of these detainees had jobs, homes, and even families they were supporting prior to their arrest for a civil violation of the law. It would be far more humane, and cost effective, to allow these detainees out with a summons for a court date than to waste away in jail while the county makes more money at taxpayer’s expense.
On Nov. 7, Baker Interfaith Friends decided to resume our twice-monthly visits with ICE detainees. If you are interested in joining us or providing support, contact us at Bakerinterfaithfriends@gmail.com.
For individuals who need to report a complaint regarding their conditions of confinement, please contact the ACLU of Florida through the Florida Detention Database at 786-363-3095 or email@example.com. Individuals can also contact the Florida Detention Database to schedule an initial consultation regarding an immigration case.
The ACLU’s Baker Legal Assistance Program (tinyurl.com/Iguana1476) is also in need of additional pro bono attorneys. If you are interested in participating in the Program, please contact Katie Blankenship, deputy legal director with the ACLU of Florida, at firstname.lastname@example.org.