Trump Admin. Seizing Bibles, Violating Religious Freedom of Detained Immigrants, ACLU Says

(Photo: Reuters/Tom Mihalek)A demonstrator holds a sign to protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order temporarily banning refugees and immigrants from seven primarily Muslim countries from entering the United States during a rally in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. February 4, 2017

Immigration and prison officials have seized Bibles and other holy books from immigrants detained at a federal prison in California, where they are being subjected to dangerous and inhumane conditions with no freedom to practice their respective faiths, the American Civil Liberties Union says in a lawsuit.

The ACLU said, as part of a coalition of civil rights groups, it has filed a federal lawsuit against President Donald Trump, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Federal Bureau of Prisons for violating the constitutional rights of the roughly 1,000 immigrants detained at the federal prison located in a desert in Victorville.

Prison officials have denied the detained men "one of the few things that might bring them some comfort or peace of mind: the ability to practice their faith," the group said in a Wednesday statement, explaining that they are not being provided religious services or any other means for them to worship and pray.

"By policy, the men are not allowed to worship outside of their cells. Prison officials also have not provided meals that fully comport with their religious beliefs, forcing them to eat food that violates their faith or go hungry," ACLU says.

Their religious items were confiscated, it adds. Citing an example, the group says an immigrant "had his Bible seized and has likewise been unable to procure a replacement."

"These violations of religious rights persist, even though the BOP's and ICE's own regulations recognize the right to engage in these religious practices," the statement notes.

They are "confined indoors for most of the day with little opportunity for exercise or exposure to sunlight," it continues. "Their 'meals' are often inedible: spoiled milk and meat that is infested with worms and maggots."

Officials are also ignoring medical and mental health needs, "an especially dangerous situation for those who have fled persecution or torture in their home countries."

As a result, ACLU says, there have been outbreaks of chickenpox and scabies. "When the men try to seek medical help, they are often dismissed, mocked, and verbally abused by staff who threaten them with isolation and other punishment."

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Riverside, was brought by six detainees on behalf of all ICE detainees for alleged violations of their rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment as well as the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and statutory rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

At a Tuesday Senate hearing, a top ICE official said the detention facilities are like "Summer camp." 

"These individuals have access to 24/7 food and water," Matthew Albence said. "They have educational opportunities. They have recreational opportunities, both structured as well as unstructured; there's basketball courts, there's exercise classes, there's soccer fields we put in there." 

Trump's "zero-tolerance" immigration policy has also been criticized for resulting in the separation of immigrant children from their families. Trump announced an end to the policy in June and a federal judge ordered his administration to reunite the children who had already been separated from their families. 

Most of those children have been reunited, but close to 600 are still waiting for their cases to be resolved. For about 400 of the children, their parents are out of the country, likely because they were deported.

In June, about two dozen men from Central America who were being held in a detention facility in Texas after they were separated from their children said they were asked to sign voluntary deportation papers if they wanted to reunite with their kids. 

Friday, in response to the Justice Department arguing the ACLU should find those children's lost parents, a federal judge ordered the Trump administration to find the parents.

"The reality is that for every parent who is not located, there will be a permanently orphaned child," U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw said.  

Wednesday, Pro Publica reported on court records showing a staff worker at an immigrant detention facility in Arizona had been charged with sexually abusing eight boys.