Washington, DC — Today, advocates, lawyers, public health experts, and a person formerly detained convened for an urgent briefing on the state of COVID-19 in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facilities, and the immediate need to release people now to protect public health. The call coincided with the release of a new mini report from Detention Watch Network, Courting Catastrophe: How ICE is Gambling with Immigrant Lives Amid a Global Pandemic.
On Tuesday, an immigrant being held in detention in New Jersey became the first person in ICE custody to test positive for COVID-19. Doctors and advocates have been ringing the alarm bell for weeks to immediately release people from detention to flatten the COVID-19 curves. The report outlines how ICE’s shameful record of medical negligence, poor sanitation, and demonstrated inability to properly respond to past infectious disease outbreaks means that there is a serious risk of COVID-19 outbreaks in immigration detention.
Key recommendations from the report include:
- Immediately release all detained immigrants to mitigate the spread of COVID-19
- Cease all enforcement operations to prevent new people from being detained and ensure that immigrants are not afraid to seek medical attention
- Eliminate all check-ins and mandatory court appearances to comply with social distancing recommendations
- Ensure all facilities where people are detained in ICE custody, be it county jails or dedicated facilities, are prioritizing the health and wellbeing of people detained, including a waiver of all costs associated with soap, sanitizer, and other hygiene products and a commitment to making these supplies widely available
“By continuing to hold people in ICE detention and subjecting them to an environment in which infectious diseases are known to thrive, this administration is prioritizing their anti-immigrant agenda over the wellbeing and survival of those in its custody in addition to those working at detention centers and jails across the country,” said Bárbara Suarez Galeano, Organizing Director of Detention Watch Network. “This puts us everyone at risk — all people need to be released now.”
“I am a visitation program coordinator for women detained at T. Don Hutto, where I was previously detained for four months,” said Sulma Franco, immigration and detention organizer for Grassroots Leadership. “ICE has banned me from visiting, and it continues to control my life by blocking the communication I can receive from the women inside. If this is how ICE treats me from outside the cage, how is ICE treating them inside the cage? I spoke to a woman detained at T. Don Hutto recently, and we learned that ICE is taking no basic precautions for the pandemic. We must demand ICE release people immediately. We all deserve to be safe during this time.”
“People detained are afraid, one thing is for sure, no one is safe under ICE custody,” said Maru Mora Villalpando, Organizer for La Resistencia. “People continue dying under their custody, people detained don't want to die in detention. ICE has the power to release people right now, we must continue the pressure for mass release and make sure people are not caged anymore, ICE is dismantled and never again allowed to terrorize and destroy our communities.”
“What happens next will be determined by actions we take now. The window to act is closing rapidly,” said Dr. Ranit Mishori, senior medical advisor at Physicians for Human Rights and professor of family medicine at the Georgetown University School of Medicine. “You can’t practice social distancing or meticulous hygiene in an ICE detention facility. All immigration detainees should be released on humanitarian grounds. We call on ICE, state and federal officials to act now to protect the health and human rights of communities across the country. Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures.”
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Detention Watch Network (DWN) is a national coalition of organizations and individuals working to expose and challenge the injustices of the United States’ immigration detention and deportation system and advocate for profound change that promotes the rights and dignity of all persons. Founded in 1997 by immigrant rights groups, DWN brings together advocates to unify strategy and build partnerships on a local and national level to end immigration detention.