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COVID-19 in ICE Detention Centers

Updated: Nov 1, 2020

By Naomi Heredia

#CLOSETHECAMPS Protest at Middle Collegiate Church in New York, July 2 2020

Image via @dweins on Instagram

How are the conditions in ICE detention centers affecting the rapid spread of COVID-19? ICE detention centers are a prominent epicenter for COVID-19 spreading, with crowded rooms and unsanitary conditions characterizing the locations. How accurate is the number of deaths caused by ICE’s detention centers? These events will take their toll on generations to come, as the fight for the freedom of these asylum seekers and their children is not over.

ICE or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was created to enforce the U.S. federal, criminal, and civil laws that concern immigration, border control, customs, and trade. Originally created to protect the U.S., ICE has more recently been known for arresting and deporting undocumented individuals as well as managing detention centers. Over the years, there have been reports of the inhumane conditions in these centers, and they became the perfect grounds for COVID-19 to spread rapidly.

The conditions of these detention centers are awful. They have been described as overcrowded, with little medical care, having cold temperatures, and as unsanitary. These are human beings forced to live like livestock in the midst of a pandemic. As of July 23, almost 75% of the detainees being held in an ICE facility in Virginia have tested positive for COVID-19. This is after both advocates and immigration lawyers had raised attention to the conditions, and that did nothing to contain the spread. According to CNN, ICE admitted that there "have been some instances where positive cases have been transported by ICE," because they do not intentionally move detainees who are COVID-19 positive. The spread will not stop as long as safety measures are not taken seriously. Precautions (social distancing, wearing a mask, sanitizing often, and washing our hands) we are supposed to take, as a society are being blatantly disregarded, putting those in detention centers in grave danger.

There are positive cases as well as deaths not being counted. Further, there are numerous cases in which a detainee is asymptomatic and not tested before being released. In the instance of Oscar Lopez Acosta, he was released and later hospitalized due to complications with his diabetes. While there, he tested positive for COVID-19, and later passed with the virus being the primary cause. As reported by PBS, ICE does not record the deaths of those who are exposed to COVID-19 before being released or deported. They are getting away with this crime with zero consequences for these deaths. To add to this, there are people being detained in hotels by a private security company. As stated by The New York Times, “Children as young as a year old — often arriving at the border with no parents — are being put in hotels under the supervision of transportation workers who are not licensed to provide child care”. This creates another large group of people who are not being counted in ICE’s statistics regarding COVID-19.

The trauma inflicted by these situations is immeasurable. Children are being separated from their parents for long periods of time, not knowing if or when their situation will change. On top of the poor living conditions, these children will miss birthdays, holidays, family celebrations, etc, because they are being held in an unsanitary detention center. The kids feel abandoned, scared, and abused, and this coupled with the sustained consequences of a possible COVID-19 contraction, will affect the children for the rest of their lives. There is an enormous line that has been crossed between enforcing the law and mistreating as well as traumatizing an entire population of people. They are being forced into these poor living situations and treated as subhuman. These people’s lives and safety are being treated as less important than others.

This was an issue well before the beginning of this pandemic, but especially right now, these people are being held in dangerous conditions and pried away from their families. They are living with the bare necessities that were fought for, in institutions unfit to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The number of people dying due to the virus they contracted while in a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement center is difficult to track, but is definitely present. These are human beings, they never deserved to be in this situation, and they never deserved to be separated from their families. If you take anything away from this article, it is that the fight for freedom is far from over, and there are people who desperately need your help. Don’t give up the fight for freedom, these are people who don’t have any other choice.

Written by writer Naomi Heredia

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