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During National Day of Action, FL immigration advocates call for reform

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During National Day of Action, FL immigration advocates call for reform

Sep 15, 2023 | 5:14 pm ET
By Jackie Llanos
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During National Day of Action, FL immigration advocates call for reform
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Florida immigration advocates called on Sept. 15 for the closure of immigration detention centers. They gathered at the First Presbyterian Church in Tallahassee. (Credit: Jackie Llanos)

Immigration advocates gathered on Friday afternoon to demand closure of immigrant detention centers, including one in Northeast Florida previously criticized over reports of medical mistreatment.

The group that gathered at the First Presbyterian Church in Tallahassee consisted of representatives from the ACLU of Florida, Immigrant Action Alliance, Southern Poverty Law Center, Florida People’s Advocacy Center, and Tallahassee’s National Organization for Women.

Isabel Ruano from the Immigration Action Alliance organized the press conference in which she condemned the detention of people waiting to see an immigration judge.

“We have immigrants who come here looking for asylum, trying to get work visas, and the immigration system is outdated, broken, and people cannot regularize their status easily,” she said. “They fall through the cracks and end up in immigration detention, where they are held for very long periods of time while either waiting for a hearing with a judge or just waiting to be deported sometimes.

“I think if anywhere else in the world that you went where you knew that people are being held and detained for a civil administrative process, I think anybody could conclude that amounts to torture. You are depriving someone or their liberty without charge of any actual crime.”

This National Day of Action came a day after a Texas federal judge declared unlawful President Joe Biden’s version of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program, which protects young immigrants from deportation. In another recent hit to immigrants, the Board of Immigration Appeals said on Sept. 11 that thousands of Cuban immigrants who entered the country through the U.S.-Mexico border will not be eligible for permanent residence.

Medical neglect

Although the press conference focused on what the advocates referred to as the flawed immigration system, they also cited an ACLU of Florida database tracking complaints about Florida immigration detention centers. Since 2017, the group has gathered 377 complaints including nearly 200 against the Baker County Detention Center in Macclenny, 30 miles west of Jacksonville.

ACLU attorneys have previously condemned what they say is egregious medical neglect at the Baker County facility. The medical subcontractor of that detention center is Armor Correctional Health Services. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office terminated its $98 million contract with that same subcontractor in July, the Florida Phoenix previously reported.

“Given the ongoing reports related to medical neglect at Baker and the findings of this investigation, we have significant concerns about Armors’ ability to provide adequate medical care for those at Baker,” said María Fernanda Henao, an immigrant justice organizer at the ACLU of Florida.

Under Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Florida Legislature has enacted laws targeting immigrants lacking legal documentation, making it a crime to transport them within the state and limiting their ability to work. He’s also transported asylum seekers from Texas to northern states lest they wind up in Florida and, running for president, advocated for the use of force against border crossers.