First confirmed case of coronavirus in ICE detention: Doctors and advocates have been sounding the alarm for weeks and continue to call for people to be released immediately 

For Immediate Release: 
Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Washington, DC — In response to the breaking news that the first person in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody tested positive for coronavirus, Silky Shah, Executive Director of Detention Watch Network, issued the following statement in response:

Doctors and advocates have been sounding the alarm for weeks that people in immigration detention are sitting ducks in a system notorious for its fatally flawed medical care and abysmal conditions. Even the former acting director of ICE, John Sandweg, has called for the release of people in detention. Yet Trump’s racist and anti-immigrant agenda drove the administration to keep people behind bars knowing our collective health was at risk. 

The individual who tested positive at the Bergen County Jail in New Jersey was initially sent out for medical evaluation at Hackensack-Meridian Health University Medical Center and then sent back to the detention center once his test was confirmed positive. ICE detention centers are not hospitals and the agency has proven repeatedly that they are not capable of caring for people in their custody. Under no circumstance should he have been returned back to the detention center. Detention centers are a hotbed of infection where mass outbreaks are imminent.  It is the consensus of public health officials that it is safer for our collective health for people to be treated in community rather than in a detention center, jail or prison.

ICE must act urgently to release people from detention facilities. It’s the government’s responsibility to protect everyone from disease and provide all people with quality medical care and attention. 

Rather, ICE has been operating with a complete lack of transparency as people in detention fear for their lives and are not provided even the most basic preventative measures like hand sanitizer and soap. Furthermore, ICE is shamefully requesting 45,000 N95 masks for guards to target and detain immigrants while there is a national shortage for healthcare workers.

It’s not too late, ICE must release people from detention now. Make no mistake, inaction could result in a mass death sentence for immigrants if they remain in detention facilities.” 


Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition of organizations and individuals building power through collective advocacy, grassroots organizing, and strategic communications to abolish immigration detention in the United States. Founded in 1997 by immigrant rights groups, DWN brings together advocates to unify strategy and build partnerships on a local and national level. Visit Follow @DetentionWatch.