Cameron County, Texas — As the result of ongoing advocacy efforts by the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network and Detention Watch Network the Cameron County Commissioners Court passed a resolution on May 12 calling on the release of people from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention, prison, and jails to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The resolution impacts the over 900 people currently detained at the Port Isabel Detention Center (PIDC) where the first confirmed case of the coronavirus among people detained was made public on May 14. Additionally, on April 9 it was reported that a contract employee at PIDC tested positive for COVID-19. This is only the second resolution to pass nationwide as the result of COVID-19, the first being in El Paso.
“We applaud Cameron County on taking the first step to release people from detention,” said Luis Suarez, Field Advocacy Manager at Detention Watch Network. “Given the thousands of medical professionals and advocates nationwide that have been calling for the immediate release of people from detention this step was long overdue. Swift implementation of the resolution is of the utmost importance to ensure people are no longer at risk in ICE custody.”
ICE’s shameful record of medical negligence, poor sanitation, and demonstrated inability to respond to past infectious disease outbreaks is detailed in a Detention Watch Network report, Courting Catastrophe: How ICE is Gambling with Immigrant Lives Amid a Global Pandemic. Currently, there are over 1,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in ICE detention centers across the country, although advocates estimate this number could be larger due to a lack of testing.
“In addition to the people in detention who are most at-risk, detention centers put our community’s collective health in jeopardy,” said Dr. Nora Montalvo-Liendo, with 26 years of experience as a public health nurse in Cameron County. “Detention centers are hotbeds of infection where everyone who enters, including facility staff, becomes susceptible to contracting COVID-19 and furthering the spread in our community.”
In addition to calling for the release of people from detention, jails and prisons, the resolution also recommends:
- The local health department be allowed to monitor and receive reporting of testing of individuals under ICE custody who have signs and symptoms of COVID-19 identified as a priority 1-3 as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- The county should prepare and submit an inquiry to the County Health Department regarding the number of COVID-19 tests being administered in immigrant detention facilities for people locally held under ICE custody.
To see the full list of recommendations outlined in the resolution by Cameron County Commissioners Court visit here.
“We are ready to welcome people back into our community once they are released,” said Norma A. Herrera of the Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network, a coalition of organizations serving Cameron County. “Detention is not necessary. Simply put, people should be able to navigate their immigration cases at home with their families. And for those that need support, dedicated members of our community are happy and eager to facilitate access to housing, transportation and other services to make people feel welcomed in our community.”
Despite the growing efforts calling for release since March, many elected officials have remained silent on the issue of immigration detention during the pandemic, ignoring their commitment to immigrant communities and with little to no follow up to hold ICE accountable.
“We hope this resolution serves as an example for communities across the country,” added Suarez. “People in detention are in imminent danger.”
The Rio Grande Valley Equal Voice Network (RGV EVN) is a coalition of nonprofits advancing equity along the US/ Mexico border in Hidalgo, Cameron, Willacy and Starr County. Our coalition focuses on housing, health, labor and education, with a special emphasis on immigration and civic engagement. The daily work of the network centers the voices and leadership of historically marginalized communities, including women, the LGBTQIA + community, those living in persistent poverty and immigrants. Through cultural, organizing and political strategies the RGV EVN fights for transformative social justice at the local, state and national level. Visit rgvequalvoice.org. Follow @RGVequalvoice.
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 www.detentionwatchnetwork.org. Follow @DetentionWatch.