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.