Groups urge termination of ICE contract for site accused of unlawfully deleting surveillance videos

Last November, a number of people had to be hospitalized after getting sick from carbon monoxide poisoning at the facility. Miami New Times reported that it was serious enough that some of the men who had fallen ill had to be airlifted for further care. Just weeks before that, a civil rights complaint also alleged people jailed at GCDC have been consistently exposed to a “highly toxic chemical disinfectant,” Scientific American reported in September.

“Internal emails reveal that Glades staff were not diluting a QAC-containing chemical to the highly reduced levels specified by its manufacturer’s EPA-regulated guidelines,” advocacy groups said at the time. “A Glades County official wrote to others at the Glades County Sheriff’s Office that the disinfectant was so thick that it was ‘clogging up the … sprayer.’ He then directed officials to continue showering the chemical spray from the sprayers at roughly 64 times the recommended strength.”

CREW and the ACLU of Florida say GCDC has been on the radar of a number of members of Congress, who have called on the Biden administration to terminate the facility’s ICE contract. But the only things deleted have been videos that could prove to be pivotal in investigations.

ICE isn’t innocent here either—the agency failed to report the matter to the National Archives and Records Administration “or otherwise taken action to stop Glades from prematurely deleting surveillance video,” groups said.

“The deletion of security footage at Glades is not the only example of ICE’s attempts to skirt recordkeeping laws. In 2019, ICE obtained permission from the National Archives to destroy years’ worth of sexual assault and death investigation records from ICE facilities across the country—a plan later blocked by a federal judge following a lawsuit filed by CREW.”

That same year, BuzzFeed News had reported that ICE deleted video that could have provided key answers into the death of Roxsana Hernández, a transgender asylum-seeker who was part of a so-called “caravan” demonized by the previous president in May 2018. Roxsana had been detained at a private detention facility owned by prison profiteers CoreCivic before being hospitalized and dying in intensive care.

The development that ICE has not reported the illegal deletion of video surveillance comes as immigration detention facilities are facing yet another surge amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. Advocacy groups have previously said that immigrants exposed to toxic chemicals at facilities like GCDC “can suffer from higher rates of chronic respiratory conditions. These effects in their bodies can also increase their likelihood of being infected with viral respiratory infections like the one that causes COVID-19.”

“The deletion of surveillance footage at Glades is the latest example of ICE’s appalling failure to follow and uphold critical recordkeeping laws,” CREW Senior Counsel Nikhel Sus said. “It is shameful that ICE appears to be comfortable with keeping the public in the dark about abuses taking place in one of its detention centers. ICE and NARA must intervene as legally required, and if Glades continues to break the law, ICE must terminate its contract with the center.”

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