A medical official at one of the private detention facilities operated by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) tested positive for coronavirus disease on March 19, Thursday. The official, who worked at a New Jersey detention facility, has been quarantined. The authorities have stated that none of the other officials or detainees at the center have exhibited symptoms of the virus so far.
However, ICE authorities have made no mention of whether or not they are screening their officers and workers, or the migrants in detention, for the infection. Meanwhile, reports of the first infection within an ICE facility have renewed calls from immigrant rights groups and activists to release the detainees at the time of the pandemic.
Ever since president Donald Trump initiated a crackdown against undocumented immigrants in the US, thousands of migrant families have been arrested and put in hundreds of detention opened across the country. Currently, close to 60,000 immigrants are being held in facilities run by the ICE at any given time, including children, infants, pregnant women and the elderly.
The conditions inside these facilities have evoked strong criticism from legislators and human rights activists in the US. So far, 36 deaths have been reported in the last three years in different detention facilities. A bulk of these deaths occurred in private detention facilities.
Texas-based immigrant advocacy group Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) recently stated that several detention facilities of the ICE have virtually no precautionary measure in place. In many of the centers, only the ICE officials and workers have been given masks, gloves and sanitizers. RAICES also told the World Socialist Web Site that detainees with health problems have also been denied access to medical help. Public defense attorney from San Francisco, Mano Raj, called on ICE to release detainees in the larger interest of protecting public health.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) approached a federal court in Seattle earlier this month for the release of nine identified detainees with existing health conditions, including diabetes and other illnesses affecting lungs, kidneys and the heart. The appeal was denied yesterday.
Despite the novel coronavirus outbreak, the US has not scaled down its crackdown against immigrants in the country. There have been reports of arrests from inside hospitals as undocumented migrants and refugees seek medical help during the outbreak.
Observers point out that ICE’s actions would result in many immigrants refusing to seek medical help fearing arrests, which puts the larger population at risk. Despite the ICE statement released on March 18 announcing that arrests will be halted unless necessary to “maintain public safety and national security,” the same have been reported from different parts of the country.
ICE has also taken certain “precautionary” measures in detention facilities, like limiting social visits which often includes visits from lawyers. Courts have also been notified to delay hearings of those who have been to countries designated as “Level 4” risk in the federal travel advisory. All of these measures have only impeded legal aid and justice for the detainees under the guise of taking precautions during a pandemic.