What’s it like in a detention center?

The following stories were reported by the New Sanctuary Coalition.

We don’t have soap or cleaning supplies. We’re locked in for over 18 hours a day with people who are sick or have been in contact with people who’ve tested positive. We have no protection.

Six phones for 60 people. We’re only allowed to call during three hours each day, so there’s always a crowd. Phones aren’t cleaned between calls. They tested a few people with symptoms but sent them back before the results came back and won’t tell them what the results are.

They aren’t giving us safety gear. They’re not taking any tests or precautions. The officers aren’t being tested. They’re still bringing in new detainees from other states and facilities. They’re not testing them down in intake. Nobody feels safe in here at all.

I have chest pains; I don’t know what to do. Medical doesn’t have training or tests. The staff don’t care what happens to us. People coughing are still locked up with us. The unit flooded with brown water, and we were forced to clean it with no protective gear. I need help.

ICE is holding people who have committed no criminal offense and who pose no danger to anyone but the coronavirus makes the detention centers where they are potential death camps.

ProPublica reports that the situation is so dire in one New Jersey facility that some people in detention are undertaking hunger strikes. In Alabama, the Washington Post says, some have threatened suicide. And, the Texas Tribune described an uprising at the South Texas ICE Processing Center.

COVID-19 threatens the well-being of detained individuals and  staff shuttling between communities and facilities. As with the general population, the most vulnerable are the elderly, pregnant women, and people with other health issues including mental health.

How you can help right now

Contact our representative, Antonio Delgado. Yes, Congress has a lot on its plate, but this needs to get on their radar.

Donate to one of the groups linked in this article or to a community bail fund. The Community Justice Exchange keeps listings of such funds by state. In NYC, the average bond is about $7,500.

The New Sanctuary Coalition is asking people to call detention facilities (to ask about whether they plan to release people or take other steps to limit contagion) and airlines to ask them not to participate in deportations. Free Them All Campaign.

Doctors for Camp Closure

Photo courtesy of Doctors for Camp Closure

According to ProPublica the coronavirus threatens crowded Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities, reports of virus cases are starting to surface, and ICE has a dismal record of following its own rules for contagious disease diagnosis and control. That conclusion is based on a review of more than 70 reports detailing deaths in ICE detention over the last decade.

Meanwhile, groups are calling for changes. A letter signed by more than 3,000 healthcare professionals urges ICE to release people from detention and use community based alternatives. (Read the letter initiated by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and Doctors for Camp Closure.)

Never Again Action/#Release Them Now (New Sanctuary Coalition, Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, and Jews for Social and Economic Justice) is calling for parole for more people in detention.

Why is it so dangerous?

The following is adapted from the letter to ICE mentioned above.

Detention facilities,  jails, and prisons are designed to maximize control not to minimize disease or deliver health care. These facts are compounded by often crowded and unsanitary conditions, poor ventilation, lack of adequate access to soap and water, poor nutrition, and failure to adhere to recognized standards for disease prevention, screening, and containment.

New arrivals and the frequent transfer of individuals from one facility to another complicates disease detection and prevention. A timely response to reported and observed symptoms is needed to interrupt viral transmission yet delays in testing, diagnosis, and access to care are systemic in ICE custody.

ICE’s own National Detention Standards require a “safe, secure and humane environment.” A patchwork regulatory system, makes it unclear whether ICE or county and state health departments are responsible for ensuring public health oversight.

Social distancing measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are nearly impossible in detention, and testing remains largely unavailable. Large-scale quarantines may not be feasible. Isolation may be misused placing individuals at higher risk of neglect and death.

In this setting, COVID-19 could spread in a manner similar to what happened at the Life Care Center in Washington State where over 50 percent of residents have tested positive and over 20 percent have died in the past month. Such an outbreak would further strain our health care system.

Read More

Courting Catastrophe: How ICE is Gambling with Immigrant Lives Amid a Global Pandemic, Setareh Ghandehari and Gabriela Viera with Silky Shah and Aimee Nichols, Detention Watch Network. Available in English and Spanish. Nine pages.

Detained and Exposed, The Center for Investigative Reporting’s podcast, Reveal. (53 minutes)

ICE Detainees Are Being Quarantined, Ken Klippenstein, The Nation: leaked document about the Department of Homeland Security’s COVID-19 response suggests that the crisis has made its way to border detention facilities.

Immediate Action Needed for people in NY Jails and Prisons, Darren Mack, Bard Prison Initiative blog. Mack is outreach ad alumni engagement coordinator at JustLeadershipUSA.

No Masks, Disinfectant or Soap. This Is Detention Amid a Pandemic, Kate Goldman, a Spanish-language interpreter working with asylum seekers, New York Times.

Quarantine in Solitary Confinement and Attorneys Wear Swimming Goggles to Court, as Batavia Grapples With the Coronavirus Pandemic, Mazin Sidahmed, Documented.

Social Distancing Is Not an Option for People in Prison and ICE Detention, Lornet Turnbull, Yes! Families recount painful conversations with loved ones inside detention centers and join advocates demanding action that detainees be protected against spread of the coronavirus.

Toolkit to Support Local Demands for Mass Release of People in ICE Custody, Detention Watch Network