Guards and Immigration Detainees Describe Widespread Abuse at Krome Processing Center

Guards and Immigration Detainees Describe Widespread Abuse at Krome Processing Center

On October 1, 2013, more than 60 men in jumpsuits crowded into the austere cafeteria at the Krome Service Processing Center, a huge Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility on the edge of the Everglades. The men, detainees from various Latin American countries, were gathered for a Spanish-language Catholic service.

Midway through the Mass, Mauro Dos Santos-Rosa, a 47-year-old Brazilian with short-cropped brown hair, stood and walked toward the bathroom. A few minutes later, he sprinted out, then kept running toward the exit, igniting instant chaos.

An officer watching over the service gave chase. As he ran, he issued a radio dispatch, triggering a facilitywide lockdown. "Escape!" he said between heavy breaths. "Escape!"

Dos Santos-Rosa bolted into a hallway and then outside, toward Krome's perimeter and a concrete service road. As five or six more guards sprinted toward the area, he ducked between two buildings, then climbed to the top of an inner gate, swinging one leg over the top. But before he could touch down on the other side, Dos Santos-Rosa was caught. He was pulled down from the gate by one of the trailing officers and immediately handcuffed.

Linda Booker, a 12-year-veteran guard, was working in a different section of the camp when she heard the lockdown warning. Later that evening, she was called in to speak with a superior, then told to visit the office of Michelle Jones, Krome's top security official.

Inside Jones' office, more than a dozen officers wrote memos on the incident. In their original reports, some of which were obtained by New Times, most officers, including the guard who was on duty at the cafeteria and the one who apprehended Dos Santos-Rosa, noted an "attempted escape" or "escape."

But as Jones read the reports, according to Booker, she grew visibly agitated. "I'm going to need you guys to not put 'escape' in this memo," she announced. Then she threatened any officers who didn't comply with disciplinary action or termination.

"We were all frightened, intimidated, and afraid of losing our jobs," another, anonymous guard later wrote in a letter. All but one of the officers wrote new memos, eliminating any mention of the word "escape."

There was a reason Jones wanted to scrub the reports: Krome is a federal facility overseen by ICE, but its security is contracted out to private companies. At the time, Krome's contract was held by Doyon-Akal, a joint venture of two national firms — and there could be stiff financial penalties, even a risk of losing the companies' lucrative contract, if their guards had lost control of a detainee.

"They were demanding that we falsify documents," wrote the guard in his complaint letter, "in order to cover up the escape and avoid possible demotions, fines, and embarrassment."

Krome, which is among the country's largest holding sites for the hundreds of thousands of immigrants locked up at any given time awaiting hearings or deportation, has long been plagued by reports of appalling abuse and mismanagement. In the 1980s and '90s, repeated revelations of inhumane conditions and allegations of beatings and rapes by guards shook South Florida. Amid intense media scrutiny and federal investigations, the government vowed improvement; throughout the past decade, the facility has been largely free of the most egregious violations.

"It's very, very different than its former self," says Cheryl Little, executive director of Americans for Immigrant Justice and a longtime Krome critic.

But interviews with multiple guards and a review of hundreds of pages of detainee complaints suggest that, decades after the harrowing revelations, Krome remains troubled by mismanagement and abuse. Detainees have alleged they were badly treated by unruly guards; former guards, meanwhile, say they've been systematically retaliated against for speaking out about problems.

Many issues, both groups say, stem from ICE's privatization of the facility's security. Doyon and Akal, the companies in charge of Krome's security until last year, have been sued dozens of times in federal court over discrimination, negligence, and even wrongful-death claims; at Krome, ex-employees allege, company bosses operated on a system of favoritism and intimidation, leaving bad administrators in place while ignoring complaints of abuse.

Both Doyon and Akal declined to respond to specific incidents and allegations, saying they were contractually obligated to defer comment to ICE. An ICE spokesman for Krome also declined to respond specifically, instead issuing a general statement that "accusations of misconduct involving agency contractors are taken seriously... When allegations are substantiated, appropriate actions are taken."

Now, while the 2016 presidential race wrenches immigration reform back to the forefront of the national political agenda, Krome whistleblowers and former detainees say they hope conditions and practices at ICE's mass holding facilities enter into the larger conversation about how the United States takes care of its immigrants.

"You get treated like an animal in there," says Noel Covarrubia, a Venezuelan native who was detained at the facility for four years before he was deported earlier this year. "And this is all approved by ICE."

In the '80s and '90s the Krome Service Processing Center in far West Miami-Dade was notorious for bad conditions and scandal.
In the '80s and '90s the Krome Service Processing Center in far West Miami-Dade was notorious for bad conditions and scandal.
Photo by George Martinez/

If a river of immigrants has always poured into South Florida, in 1980, it became a flood.

The biggest influx came from Cuba, where the economy was in free fall. In early April that year, five men stormed the Peruvian embassy in Havana, seeking political asylum. When Peru granted it, 10,000 more desperate Cubans descended on the embassy's courtyard. Facing mounting unrest, on April 20, Fidel Castro announced that he was opening the port at Mariel, 30 miles west of Havana, to any residents who wanted to leave by sea. In the first week of the ensuing Mariel Boatlift — as the exodus became known — more than 7,000 Cuban nationals crammed onto dinghies or motorboats, bound for new lives in South Florida. In May, more than 85,000 more came.

The arriving Cubans were joined by boats packed with thousands of Haitians, fleeing poverty and persecution under the ruthless government of Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier; caught off-guard, the U.S. government set up a temporary camp on the edge of the Everglades, and the Krome Service Processing Center was born.

The original facility, built on 15 acres of government land near an abandoned Nike air missile compound in far-western Miami-Dade County, consisted of two rudimentary camps — one for Haitians and one for Cubans — under big, circus-like tents. Mosquitoes were rampant, and snakes and alligators lurked on the outskirts of the compound. "All I remember was mud," jokes Ira Kurzban, a prominent immigration attorney who visited the original camp.

The two camps, which initially housed as many as 2,000 immigrants, were later combined into one upgraded facility. But Krome was meant as a short-term holding center to deal with a temporary influx. Instead, it became a permanent de facto prison — and the country's most notorious immigrant holding center.

By late 1982, when more than 100 immigrants, predominantly Haitian, were being housed long-term at Krome, conditions were grim and detainees were despondent. Earlier that year, three attempted suicide. "I cannot stand this camp," one 22-year-old Haitian, Waquine Badio, told the Miami Herald. Badio had tried and failed to hang himself using a rope attached to his bunk. "When I woke up and found I was alive, I didn't care," he said.

Over the next several years, reports emerged that Krome officers were sexually abusing detainees, including one teenager; that a Cuban detainee was shackled and beaten by guards; that officers accepted bribes to help facilitate escapes. By 1990, hunger strikes among detainees were common, and the Justice Department had launched an investigation into the abuses.

But the scandals kept coming. In the early and mid-'90s, detainees reported being forced to kneel and beg forgiveness of their guards. There was a 31-year-old Haitian woman who accused a guard of raping her, an enormous fire that prompted evacuations, and the revelation that an officer was using stun guns on detainees. Employees who blew the whistle on abuses lost their jobs. "They fired me because I spoke out," Janine Todaro, a teacher at the facility, told the New York Times.

In May 1995, federal prosecutors indicted a Krome officer for beating a detainee; one morning the next month, in a national scandal that became known as "Kromegate," the facility's INS bosses ordered guards to hide their guns and handcuffs. They also loaded more than 100 detainees onto buses and "took them to lunch" at a different facility: A congressional delegation was coming for inspections, and Krome bosses didn't want the facility to be seen for what it was: "an overcrowded, stark jail," as Little wrote in a scathing 1996 report.

In 1998, the facility was revamped into its current incarnation: a modern, institutional-style facility built around residential "pods" — large dorms with 60 bunk beds, as well as televisions and several tables for card games.

But the upgrade didn't stop all the problems. In the early 2000s, an officer was charged with raping a Mexican transgender detainee, other officers admitted to taking bribes, and female inmates were promised better treatment in exchange for sex with guards.

Krome later became all-male, and in 2005, when the facility was holding more than 500 detainees, ICE committed to a total refashioning. "The history of Krome... is tainted," Michael Rozos, field office director at the time, told the Herald. "This is a new era."

For the most part, it was. Over the next several years, facilities were upgraded, and public reports of abuses abated.

Now, in a modern facility, Krome holds upward of 800 men from all over the world (a spokesman for Krome declined to give a current count) who are held for months or in some cases years while awaiting deportation or immigration hearings. The men were typically caught by immigration agents because they have some kind of criminal record, although in some cases, their convictions are decades old or extremely minor.

The facility is run by ICE, which operates under the Department of Homeland Security, but the 200 or so Krome guards aren't actually federal employees: Like like many federal prison facilities, Krome had begun privatizing its security force under Ronald Reagan's administration in the '80s. And the quality of those privately hired guards, advocates say, fluctuates with the companies in charge.

When Booker began working at Krome in 2001, the contractor was United International Investigative Services, an Anaheim, California-based company. In 2002, Akal Security, a New Mexico-based firm, took over the contract.

But the more recent problems — at least according to Booker and three other guards New Times spoke with — began in October 2008, when a new contract, for roughly $4 million a month, was awarded to a joint venture between Akal and Doyon, an Alaska-based corporation.

"That's when," says Booker, "a lot of corrupted stuff started going on."

Avelino Abeijon, a former Krome guard, says he was targeted for reporting violations at the facility.
Avelino Abeijon, a former Krome guard, says he was targeted for reporting violations at the facility.
Photo by George Martinez/

Noel Covarrubia, a short, middle-aged Venezuelan with a white mustache and thin-framed glasses, stood next to his yellow bunk bed under harsh fluorescent lights, his head bowed in prayer. A devout Jew, Covarrubia had spent every morning since he landed in Krome two years earlier reciting prayers softly by his bedside, usually standing with a few other Jews who lived in the same pod.

But this morning in 2013, a guard demanded that the men sit as she began a head count. Not wanting to break their prayers, the men ignored her. The guard began screaming, Covarrubia says: "'You have to sit down! You have to sit down!'"

When Covarrubia refused, he says, he was promptly taken to solitary confinement, where he was kept alone in a small cement cell with a toilet. Covarrubia was held there for three days. The punishment — all for trying to practice his religion — was scarring, he says.

It also wasn't isolated. New Times reviewed hundreds of pages of files on detainee complaints submitted between 2012 and 2013; the reports, originally obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, outline only 16 cases, but several detail disturbing allegations of physical abuse. Those complaints are generally corroborated by interviews with ex-guards who worked at Krome during the same period.

"It can happen for any reason," Avelino Abeijon, a former Krome security guard, says of the abuse. "These officers are already stressed out... They [can] lose that edge. They go right over."

In one incident, on January 30, 2013, one detainee got upset that another man was "making fun of him" as he filled a cup of water at a fountain. The detainee threw his cup at the glass separating him from the other detainee, spilling water on the floor. When a guard noticed, he confronted the detainee and then, in an apparent fit of rage, pushed him on the back of the neck so hard that the inmate almost fell.

Once the incident was reported, another detainee corroborated the man's story, but the guard denied the accusation, saying only that his "hand might have slipped" when he tried to touch the detainee's back. According to the report, surveillance video backed up the detainee's version. But an agency investigation found that no assault had been committed, although it did conclude that the officer violated Doyon-Akal's use-of-force policy. "Please address the latter issue," a memo to Krome Director Marc Moore concluded, "and take any necessary action." It's not clear if Doyon-Akal ever disciplined the officer.

In another incident, just after 9 a.m. on March 2, 2013, when the temperature dipped into the low 60s, several detainees outside on recreation wrapped shirts around their heads to keep warm. When a guard told one man to remove the shirt, the detainee pointed to another man: "Let's go tell him first," he said. After a tense exchange, the guard escorted the man inside, where another guard snatched the shirt from his head. When the detainee spun around, he later complained, the first guard punched him hard in the chest, saying, "Yeah, I'm that nigga that's not scared to put my hands on you."

The inmate, who said he was prescribed pain medication afterward, complained that "I posed no threat toward the officer." Records show that the man was given a violation for disobeying orders and put in solitary confinement. No discipline order was given for the guard.

Another grievance that year suggests a more severe abuse of force. On August 11, around 7 p.m., a group of mostly Spanish-speaking inmates was sitting around a table joking and playing spades when a guard came to collect men for a library visit. The inmates at the table playfully goaded an English speaker into saying a derogatory Spanish term, inciting rousing laughter. But the guard thought the man had insulted him. While the detainees cracked up, the officer approached the English speaker, locked his arm around his neck, and thrust his finger at his mouth, threatening that he should shut up if he liked his teeth.

"OK, whatever you say," the detainee answered. Then the officer punched him in the mouth.

"Everyone knows that I loathe that name," the officer wrote in his follow-up report, "so I went up to that individual and told him not to call me that. He laughed, so I slapped him in the mouth very gingerly."

Four days later, after an ICE review found that the man had actually been hit so hard that his mouth bled, the guard was fired.

Another alleged beating was much worse.

In one recent incident not included in the reports obtained by New Times but described separately by Covarrubia and Abeijon, a group of detainees was outside in the recreation yard while a golf cart, used by guards to drive around the facility, sat empty nearby. One man in his 20s, who had known psychological issues, noticed the key was still inside. He hopped in and started driving, making it maybe 20 feet before half a dozen guards caught up. In front of a crowd of onlookers, they pulled the young man out and started pummeling him.

When some of the other detainees, including Covarrubia, began protesting, guards rushed them inside and out of view. The man was eventually transported to Kendall Regional Hospital for his injuries; a couple of days after the beating, Covarrubia happened to see him inside Krome's medical facility. His lips were badly swollen and broken open, and one of his eyes was still bulging.

"It was more than purple," Covarrubia said, "almost black." According to Abeijon, no officers were disciplined for the beating.

Covarrubia's Krome nightmare started in 2010. The Venezuelan, who is now 50 years old, came to Miami as a young man. He worked in business and technology and eventually started his own company selling corporate websites. In 1989, he married an Ohio native named Donna, and the couple had two kids before separating eight years later.

But in his adopted country, Covarrubia also had brushes with the law. In 1994, he was charged with felony battery in Miami-Dade County and later sentenced to one year of probation; in 1997, in the middle of his lengthy divorce from Donna, he traveled to southern Ohio around Christmas, hoping to visit his two young children.

Instead Donna called police, and he was hit with a host of charges, including fourth-degree assault, criminal mischief, and trespassing. He pleaded guilty and was eventually deported, in February 1999.

In his birth country, Covarrubia tried to make a new life, he says, but found himself lost, especially after his father died. So he took another flight to the United States, then lived quietly (and illegally) for a decade or so, working with technology systems in Kissimmee and Savannah, Georgia; in 2006, leading up to the Venezuelan presidential elections, the tech-savvy Covarrubia even put together political videos for his distant relative Manuel Rosales — Hugo Chavez's leading opposition candidate at the time.

Then came more legal trouble. In 2010, another woman accused Covarrubia of assault. The Osceola County case against him was dropped before charges could be filed, but Covarrubia had again caught ICE's attention.

Believing he would be at risk in Venezuela because of his political involvement, he decided to fight the case. "I was extremely afraid to go back to my country," he says.

That's how he ended up inside Krome for four years. But in the facility, Covarrubia alleges, he was targeted because of his religion. He was routinely harassed by guards while trying to receive kosher meals, he claims, and often weathered ethnic insults. Once, in September 2012, a guard denied Covarrubia and several other Jews their scheduled Yom Kippur service, he says. The men had been planning the service for three months with a rabbi and had been fasting all day when a terse guard abruptly told them the ceremony was off.

"I don't care if you like it or not," Covarrubia remembers the guard saying. "You're not going to celebrate Yom Kippur today."

Covarrubia filed a federal discrimination suit against ICE and Doyon-Akal in 2013 while he was still in detention, but after "four years of hell," he says, he gave up. Covarrubia was granted a voluntary repatriation. He knew he would be headed to an uncertain, likely dangerous situation in Venezuela — but at least he would be leaving Krome.

The detention center is no longer overcrowded, but former guards and detainees say it's still troubled by abuses.
The detention center is no longer overcrowded, but former guards and detainees say it's still troubled by abuses.
Photo by George Martinez/

On Avelino Abeijon's first day as a Krome security guard, the 44-year-old with broad shoulders and gentle brown eyes was promptly put in charge of 20 Mexican and Honduran detainees. The men were deeply weary, Abeijon remembers, and as they idled in the Spartan glass holding cells awaiting processing, Abeijon became increasingly dismayed. The processing — when new arrivals are medically examined and assigned beds — is supposed to take no more than 12 hours. Abeijon's men were stuck in limbo for up to 36 hours. Despite his efforts, they weren't provided showers, standard hygiene packs, proper sleeping space, or even adequate food, given only bologna sandwiches.

To the new guard — who'd spent almost a decade as an immigration officer — the treatment was startling. "I was sad and angry," Abeijon says. "It was like a factory."

Over the following months, Abeijon noticed more violations, everything from unsanitary bathroom conditions to harassment of handicapped detainees. But when he began speaking out, Abeijon himself became a target of abuse and discrimination. As a white Latino, he says he was racially insulted by peers, mistreated by bosses, and ultimately terminated.

He's not alone in those allegations. Even as detainees have complained of abuse by guards, multiple guards have also accused Doyon-Akal of mismanagement, discrimination, and forgery — all under the nose of the U.S. government. In complaints filed with the federal agency and in multiple lawsuits, they argue that Doyon-Akal reaped taxpayer-supported profits while abusing employees and bungling facility operations. "These guys absorb all [the government's] liability," says Abeijon. "Whatever happens happens."

Abeijon had a rough early life. He grew up outside Chicago until his family relocated to Hialeah when he was a teenager. The family was Catholic and maintained a strong connection to its immigrant roots: Both his parents had come from Galicia, Spain, where his father's family had a farm, before moving to Cuba and then the United States. Abeijon's father instilled in him the importance of helping the less fortunate, Abeijon says, but he was also alcoholic and sometimes abusive. By the time Abeijon was 13, he says, he was also abusing drugs and alcohol.

Abeijon's mother died of pulmonary disease when Abeijon was 18, and his father succumbed to alcoholism ten years later. The tragedies motivated him to turn his life around: Abeijon quit drinking and drugs and enrolled in the military police academy. He graduated in 2000, then served in the military at Fort Benning, Georgia.

In 2002, he landed a job as an inspector with Immigration and Natural Services in Toronto; later, he took a position as a customs agent at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. In 2011, after a few years in the private-security sector, Abeijon — recently remarried and a new father — was accepted as a security guard at Krome. Both he and his wife were thrilled. "We had free health insurance for my whole family," he says, "a good benefit package, and top pay."

He would quickly be disillusioned. Abeijon says he felt compelled to speak out about abuses he saw: a gay detainee being sexually harassed, men forced to sleep on the floor because of overcrowding, one quadriplegic detainee being insulted by guards. "I felt bad for these guys," Abeijon says.

His concerns, though, were repeatedly ignored by colleagues and superiors, he alleges. "All I got was a lot of passing the buck, pointing fingers, and guards telling me to shut up and move on."

Abeijon's activism also earned him a reputation as a troublemaker. Other guards — worried his complaints might draw increased scrutiny — harassed him and called him "chico" or "white ass cracker." Worse, Abeijon's whistle-blowing inspired retaliation from bosses, he claims, who arbitrarily transferred him around the facility and unfairly denied his applications for a promotion.

In July 2013, Abeijon was investigated after he used one hand to block an aggressive detainee. In its review, ICE found his use of force to be "questionable" but ruled that no violation of policy had occurred. Still, even though his record was free of prior incidents, he says he was suspended without pay. Thirty days later, he was offered resignation in lieu of termination. When he refused, he was fired. His numerous appeals of the decision went nowhere.

"I was shocked," he says. "I was the guy who never had an incident. Never been disciplined. Never called in sick."

Other guards too say they suffered retaliation as a result of speaking out.

Anthony Garcia started working at Krome in 2004, after more than two decades as a deputy sheriff. During his tenure, Garcia was often bothered by the way the facility was managed, he says — guards were asked to falsify or omit memos, food and clothing were needlessly wasted, rules seemed to apply to some detainees but not others.

But one day in early 2012, a boss' order was particularly egregious. Around 8 a.m., a head count was taken, as it was every morning, and Garcia left once his shift ended at noon. But later in the afternoon, he was called back to duty, and he and a female Doyon-Akal guard were told by administrators from both ICE and Akal to sign off on a new number for the morning's detainee count. Garcia was keenly aware of the seriousness of head counts: Doyon-Akal would face consequences if one was incorrect, and sometimes the facility was shut down for hours while the numbers were recounted. Told to sign off on the new numbers, the female guard started crying, Garcia says, and he flatly refused. "If I falsify this, I'm committing perjury," he told the supervisor. "I'm not going to do it."

That May, Garcia was on duty, helping with an equipment delivery, when a 275-pound steel jack was dropped several feet onto his foot. Within seconds, his foot was turning black, and he was in so much pain that he could barely walk. A Krome nurse told him to go to the hospital, but before he could leave, he says, Jones stopped him. She wanted him to change the incident report he had written and refused to let him go until he did. "She was screaming and yelling, 'I'm not going to accept this!'" Garcia says.

Twice Garcia tried to hobble out of the facility but was stopped at security because of Jones' order; it was more than three hours later, he says — after a captain noticed his agony and intervened — that he was finally able to leave to get treatment. Garcia had multiple operations and was off work for six months before he got a letter saying his medical benefits were being canceled — Doyon-Akal had decided to terminate him.

Booker, the veteran officer who was on shift during the 2013 escape attempt, emerged as a strong vocal leader among Krome employees, frequently complaining about guards' treatment. In November 2012, after a supervisor was transferred in apparent punishment, Booker organized a petition. Sixty-five other employees signed on anonymously, but after it circulated, Jones called Booker into her office, threatening to fire her if she didn't divulge the organizer. Booker confessed it was she.

Jones then began looking for an excuse to fire her, Booker claims, even though her employee record had been sterling and she had once been nominated as National Employee of the Year.

On December 19, 2013, Jones found it.

At 4:30 a.m., while Booker was working the night security shift in Krome's main lobby, an employee entered and scanned her bag. No threat alert went off, but Jones noticed an image of a gun on the monitor. She questioned the employee, who said "Oh shit" and admitted it was a handgun. Booker told her to return the firearm to her vehicle.

Booker issued a report, but the next day she was suspended: When the woman had returned to the building, Booker had only visually inspected her bag — which this time had no gun — because she believed the x-ray machine wasn't working properly. A couple of weeks later, Booker was fired for failing to scan the bag a second time. "This was a way for her to set me up to take my job away," Booker says of Jones.

Employee complaints against Doyon and Akal reach far beyond Krome. Since 2011, Doyon has been sued 11 times in federal civil court, in cases everywhere from Hawaii to Texas. Several involve wrongful-termination allegations, including one guard at an El Paso facility who said he was fired after reporting abuses; the Alaska-based company was also sued by the family of a teenaged girl after she was invited onto a Doyon-run Washington state military base and ended up dying of an overdose. Of the 11 cases, only one remains open; five were ultimately settled out of court, including the negligent-death case. Since 2014, Akal has been sued separately in federal court 24 times, mostly for wrongful-termination allegations. Ten remain open, and four were settled.

Critics, including Abeijon, say much of Krome's employee discontent — and detainee abuse — can be attributed to the federal government's privatization of detention facility operations.

"ICE decided, 'Well, we're going to give these guys the contracts,'" Abeijon says, "'and we're just going to turn our heads and look the other way.'"

Detainees in orange jumpsuits walk in front of Krome officials. At the all-male facility, some men wait years for immigration decisions.
Detainees in orange jumpsuits walk in front of Krome officials. At the all-male facility, some men wait years for immigration decisions.
Photo by George Martinez/

Inside Krome on a recent Wednesday morning, a young Latino man, maybe 25, with a roundish face and dark-brown hair, stood just three inches or so from the thick glass of his holding cell. His arms were crossed, and he stared straight ahead into a sterile hallway, his eyes expressionless. The man was waiting for an interview with an ICE supervisor, waiting for the U.S. government to either deport him or let him stay. Waiting, just like the 600-some other men inside Krome on any given day.

Throughout a three-hour tour with a New Times reporter, a Krome spokesman emphasized improved features of the facility: the ubiquitous phones mounted on walls, where detainees can call hotlines and embassies for free; the modern medical facilities, where new arrivals are given physicals, screened for tuberculosis, and provided dental work; the calendars that display schedules for multiple religious services and educational courses.

New Times was prohibited from speaking with detainees, but that didn't stop a few men from communicating with a reporter: Through thick glass, one middle-aged man with baggy eyes raised his arms above his head, holding a printout of a recent article, gesturing that he wanted to speak. Another, sitting outside waiting for a haircut, exclaimed "God bless you!" at the sight of visitors; another boldly approached the five Krome officials and two journalists who had entered his pod.

"You here to talk to people?" he said, sounding agitated. "Or just stand there?"

In 2010, Congress passed a law mandating that a minimum of 34,000 beds are in use at all times for immigrant detention; it's now estimated that upward of half a million immigrants are detained each year in county jails and at mass facilities like Krome. Considering the tone of the ongoing political debate over immigration, more are likely coming — the question, the Krome whistleblowers say, is whether issues of detainee and guard treatment will actually be addressed.

"I don't believe in passing the buck or turning your head away from something, especially when it involves abusing detainees," Abeijon says.

Doyon-Akal's joint venture contract at Krome ended last summer. ICE signed a new, ten-year contract with Akima Global Services (AGS), another Alaska corporation. Most of Krome's staff was hired back, including Jones as project manager.

After returning to Venezuela, Covarrubia moved often, he says, after repeatedly hearing rumors that he would be arrested for his past political activity. He's now in Colombia, trying to eke out a living doing technology consulting; his discrimination lawsuit against ICE was ultimately dismissed because he failed to provide his new overseas addresses to the court.

Garcia and Booker both still have legal cases ongoing, as does Abeijon, who's now working for another federal security contractor. He says he feels called to continue helping immigrants in Miami-Dade County. "I'd like to be the person that's the voice of these people," he says.

Allegations of abuse linger. Under its new contract with AGS, Krome is no better than it was under Doyon-Akal, says one current guard, who requested anonymity because he still works at the facility. Just last week, news emerged that 22 Sikh men, who were recently transferred to Krome from another facility, were weeks into a hunger strike protesting their lack of rights — many of the men are hospitalized inside Krome, and some, reportedly, have even been threatened with force-feeding or the use of the Baker Act, according to the ACLU.

But to longtime Krome critics, any new allegations of abuse just sound like more déjà vu.

"There's always going to be problems," says Kurzban, the attorney. "Because in the end, you can call it what you want, but it's a prison."

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