Immigrants not only face detention and deportation. They also face a high likelihood of contracting COVID-19 while under the custody of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
The Government Accountability Project released a recent study that estimates between 72 and nearly 100 percent of people detained by ICE will be infected with 90 days, reports Lauren Carasik in the Boston Review.
“The already life-threatening conditions of immigration detention have worsened, reckless deportations are spreading the virus abroad and Trump has further gutted humanitarian relief while taking aim at legal immigration with measures that are cruel, counterproductive, and in many instances unlawful,” wrote Carasik.
This indifference toward detained immigrants also puts at risk members of the community. The detention centers, like many correctional facilities, can become breeding grounds for the disease, which spreads among staff workers as well as detainees. The workers can carry the disease to their own families and to the communities they live in, spreading the pandemic farther.
The limited testing already done shows grim results. As of May 9, ICE reported that it had tested 2,045 detained people and found 986 confirmed cases of COVID-19, an almost 50 percent positive rate. At that point ICE had just under 28,000 immigrants in detention in some 200 facilities.
More recently ICE has been reluctant to reveal the full scope of the spread in its facilities. Criticism about their mismanagement of the pandemic and pressure to release vulnerable immigrants has increased.
“Despite the outcry about its lax disease containment practices. ICE had continued to transfer detainees among facilities, risking further transmission,” reported Carasik.
She goes on to say, “ICE has long been dogged by systematic failures to provide adequate healthcare to detained people” and “ICE’s medical practices are driven not by epidemiological best practices, but instead by convenience and cost. Unchecked, this approach portends disaster.”
According to the Boston Review, a report released in May by Human Rights Watch, the ACLU and the National Immigrant Justice Center documents widespread problems in ICE detention facilities that were exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis. The problems include cost-cutting measures, such as understaffing; overcrowding; and lack of sanitary conditions.
Eighty-one percent of those in immigration detention during January of this year were held in privately run, for-profit facilities. GEO Group and CoreCivic (formerly Corrections Corporation of America), the two biggest owners of such facilities, reaped $985 million from their contracts in 2017. Both were strong supporters of President Trump’s 2016 campaign and contributed a bundle to his inaugural celebration. Prior to Trump’s election, there was a political movement to close all private prisons.
A 2019 report from the Department of Homeland Security’s office found “egregious violations of detention standards at several facilities,” the Boston Review reported. Despite Homeland Security having the authority to release the migrants or place them in community-based alternatives, this hasn’t happened. ICE routinely fails to hold detention centers up to ICE’s own official performance standards, according to the article.
Some terrified and desperate detainees have participated in hunger strikes and other types of protest, despite risking reprisals for speaking out. Punishments can range from pepper spray to solitary confinement.