Things That Matter

As Covid-19 Cases Surge At ICE Detention Centers, Many Are Asking How The Government Plans To Help

The Coronavirus pandemic has shined a light on the horrible and inhumane conditions inside ICE detention centers across the country. Unfortunately, the renewed scrutiny has resulted in very few meaningful changes and the virus continues to rage unchecked at several detention centers.

Experts say that ICE detention centers have been on notice since the beginning of the pandemic when its own public health experts were warning about the possibility of outbreaks.

“Inability to social distance, the effect of transfers, on exacerbating outbreaks. They’ve been on notice of all of this. Yet they have continued to have this very dangerous behavior of moving people around the country and exposing people,” one legal expert told ABC News.

At one Virgina facility, more than 90% of detainees have tested positive for Coronavirus.

At the Farmville Detention Center in Virginia, there are 315 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the Farmville Detention Center. The total number of people detained at Farmville is 360. That means nearly 90 percent of the population has COVID-19. And that’s according to ICE’s own numbers.

Lawyers representing a group of immigrant detainees at the ICE Detention Center in Farmville claim the facility overestimated their ability to handle detainee transfers, resulting in a spike of COVID-19 cases. They say the facility accepted a transfer of more than 70 detainees from Covid-19 hotspots, Arizona and Florida.

For their part, ICE says “The health, welfare and safety of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees is one of the agency’s highest priorities. During COVID-19, ICE has taken important steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in its detention centers the agency, including the use of expanded voluntary COVID-19 testing for detainees in the agency’s custody.”

They added in a separate statement that “Medical checks are done twice daily, including a temperature screening and medication disbursement. Every detainee who needs medical attention is being seen. Farmville staff have worked diligently to keep detainees informed of the developing situation as it evolves through education and updates from medical staff on coronavirus symptoms and how their care and custody will be managed.”

Employees at ICE facilities are also at high-risk for contracting the disease.

Across the country in Arizona, which is experiencing one of the country’s worst outbreaks of the virus, ICE facilities are also dangerous for employees. CoreCivic, which operates two ICE facilities in the state, has said that 103 employees have tested positive for the virus.

CoreCivic released the new numbers on positive cases days after the death of a senior correctional officer at the Eloy Detention Center was attributed to COVID-19.

Conditions inside immigration detention centers during the pandemic are widely criticized by advocates, immigration lawyers, and immigrants held in the facilities. They describe the dangers of infection while being held in confined spaces in large groups, a lack of soap and personal protective gear, and other complaints.

Detainees have shared their experiences with their attorneys saying that there is a lack of social distancing and isolation space, and that many are denied proper medical care if they contract COVID-19.

Meanwhile, some ICE facilities actually prohibit the use of face masks.

According to a report by the AP, San Diego’s Otay Mesa facility – one of the largest in the country – actually prohibited face masks. The warden’s reasoning was that it would scare both employees and detainees. And in the weeks that followed, Otay Mesa Detention Center would see the first big outbreak at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s 221 detention centers.

Although the outbreak’s origins are uncertain, several workers and detainees have shared the meager conditions inside the centers and how the private company is managing the disease. There was an early absence of facial coverings, and a lack of cleaning supplies. Symptomatic detainees were mixed with others.

Shortly after the initial outbreak at San Diego’s Otay Mesa facility, centers across the country began to experience their own outbreaks. The Associated Press found at Otay Mesa: 19% of facility directors said there weren’t enough standard surgical masks, 32% said there weren’t enough N95 respirator masks, and 37% felt there wasn’t enough hand sanitizer for detainees.

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