Immigrants Being Detained by ICE Are Concerned For Their Health and Safety Amid COVID-19

Supermajority Education Fund

April 10, 2020

While communities all over the United States are at risk during the coronavirus pandemic, the 38,000 immigrants currently being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are especially so, and a number are expressing their concern about their health and safety in detention centers.

According to The Washington Post, as of April 8, 32 people in ICE detention have tested positive for coronavirus, a number that increased by 13 cases in a single day. Eleven staffers at facilities in Colorado, Louisiana, New Jersey, Ohio, and Texas have also tested positive for the virus.

As The Intercept reported in late March, a young Ecuadorian woman at the South Louisiana ICE Processing Center who works in the kitchen became ill with Covid-19 symptoms earlier that month and tested negative for the flu. She was reportedly taken away on a gurney by a doctor and nurse wearing personal protective equipment, and the dorm she lived in, which holds 72 women, went on lockdown. The women were told the quarantine was for the flu. 

Some of the women in the facility expressed their concerns over a video call with The Intercept. According to the detainees, the center then shut down access to tablets, phone calls, and televisions after a guard saw this call. 

The same month migrants held at the Hudson County Jail in New Jersey went on strike, according to the New York Times. They didn’t have access to soap or toilet paper, and two people there had tested positive for Covid-19.

Another concern in detention centers is the lack of access to hospitals nearby. According to Reuters,  as of March 2, about one-third of detainees were housed at facilities that had one hospital, or none, with intensive-care beds within 25 miles.

A similar pattern has been observed in prisons across the country. The number of inmates infected in California prisons has grown more than seven times in the past week, and the number of prison staff members who tested positive nearly tripled, CNN reported Thursday

Tom Jawetz, vice president of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress (CAP), told Supermajority News that this reality is not a surprise, given that detention centers and prisons are systematically cut off from society, and it’s hard to monitor the health practices going on within their walls. But he’s seen how little attention has been paid to the medical conditions inside these facilities for years. “People in immigration detention, by and large, receive extremely poor medical care and have long had a problem with people dying in their custody with preventable illnesses,” Jawetz said. 

According to an April 7 report from BuzzFeed, ICE has identified more than 600 people who are under consideration for being released, because they might be “vulnerable” to the virus. More than 160 have already been released — decisions which were made on a case-by-case basis with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and medical experts, according to an agency official.