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New York Times

Four points from the investigation on the mishandling of COVID-19 by ICE

The United States currently has the largest immigration detention system in the world. At any given time, the Immigration and Customs Authority (ICE) accommodates tens of thousands of people in approximately 200 facilities nationwide. And throughout the pandemic, these facilities have become some of the most dangerous locations in the United States with respect to the outbreak of COVID-19. In our analysis, we compared the estimated prevalence of ICE detention centers with that of prisons and the general population. Due to an increase in COVID-19 cases in June last year, the average infection rate in ICE detention facilities was five times higher than in prisons and 20 times higher than in the general population. To understand the risks posed by ICE facilities, we spoke to former detainees, data scientists, lawyers, county authorities, and families of former ICE contractors about the spread of COVID-19 inside and outside the ICE detention center. .. We also reviewed court documents from June 2020 to March 2021, medical records of detainees, and government inspection reports. This is what we found. Sign up for The Morning Newsletter from New York Times 1. Detainees have little protection from COVID-19 in custody. There are several reasons why COVID-19 has hit the ICE detention site particularly hard. For example, inadequate implementation of institution-specific pandemic guidelines at the facility. For example, at the La Palma Orthodontic Center in Arizona, recent government inspection reports have shown repeated violations of mask wearing and social distance protocols. According to the report, detainees protested peacefully to draw attention to these situations and were severely punished by detention center staff. Another problem is the lack of testing. At a Senate hearing last June, Henry Cello, executive associate director of ICE enforcement and removal operations, testified that anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms during detention would be tested for coronavirus. Did. But that wasn’t always true. Sandra Esqueda, a non-legal immigrant from Mexico, was detained at the El Paso Service Processing Center in Texas from April to November 2020. Her medical documents show that she was not tested until 5 days after going to the medical unit of the symptomatic facility. According to Esqueda, she was positive and infected dozens of other detainees at about the same time. In another detention center in Farmville, Virginia, about 250 out of about 300 detainees on the premises were affected because ICE failed to contain the virus last summer. One later died of COVID-19. 2. Infection in the containment center has a spillover effect on the surrounding community. Not all ICE facilities have been equally hit by COVID-19. The New York Times database, which analyzes reports from federal and local agencies, found that larger outbreaks in ICE detention tended to be concentrated in the southern border states. Take Frio County, Texas, for example. With a population of about 20,000, this rural county has two large ICE facilities run by a private prison company. On May 5, 2020, there were 10 known cases in the county, all related to the South Texas ICE Processing Center. After three days, the number of positive cases tripled across the county. According to data analysts, this trend continued for a few more months. Early findings from the UCLA COVID-19 Behind Bar Data Project found that infections in the Julio County detention center were followed by infections in the general community throughout the pandemic. is. Researchers have found the same pattern at nine other ICE facilities that have experienced outbreaks in Texas, Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Louisiana, and California. In Laredo, Texas, local health officials issued compulsory quarantine orders to two ICE detention centers in late July. Still, within the next few weeks, hundreds of new cases have been reported at containment centers, burdening already overwhelming hospitals in the city. An ICE spokeswoman told The Times that authorities said, “Ingestion testing, reducing the number of detainees in custody, detention programs for individuals to protect all detainees, staff and contractors. We have taken a wide range of measures, such as placing it as an alternative to. ” 3. The lack of consistent COVID-19 data from ICE makes it difficult to track the spread of the community. The ICE posts daily the number of active infections and deaths from COVID-19 in detainees. However, they have not maintained a daily record of infections since the onset of the pandemic, making it difficult to understand how widespread the virus is during ICE detention. Another major limitation is that agencies do not disclose data on staff infections. This is essential information to understand the extent of the community. According to experts, staff transfer is a major source of the virus from the ICE containment center to the general public. Also, the data are not available due to the fact that the majority of ICE detainees are held in facilities operated by private prison companies that do not need to share information with the general public, rather than government agencies. It’s clear. At a hearing on surveillance of ICE detention facilities in July 2020, New York Rep. Kathleen Rice requested the CEOs of four ICE private contractors to publish data on employee infections. All four have said they will publish information with ICE permission, but so far there is no system-wide data on infections between ICE contractors. In a statement to the Times, authorities declined to comment on how the pandemic affected staff. 4. ICE has the potential to release more people to reduce the spread of COVID-19. As an institution, ICE has broad discretion over who is detained and released. Immigration detention is civil detention. That is, detainees are not there to provide time to commit a crime, but wait for the immigration court to decide whether they can stay in the United States. In April 2020, a federal judge in California ordered ICE to “consider identifying and releasing detainees at high risk of complications from COVID-19, regardless of their legal status.” .. Almost a year later, the same judge discovered that the agency “substantially did not obey the court’s orders.” Over the past year, more than 3,700 people have been released from ICE detention, and court orders and the Trump administration’s coronavirus border restrictions have cut the total number of ICE detainees in half. However, according to the UCLA COVID-19 Behind Bar Data Project, the current average infection rate in ICE detention facilities is still about 20 times that of the average US population. This means that ICE detention facilities are still hotspots for infection and pose a risk to those who come into contact with them. Also, unlike the Federal Bureau of Prisons, ICE does not have its own system-wide plan to vaccinate detainees. Instead, COVID-19 vaccination of ICE detainees will be in the hands of the state government and will be given at its own discretion. This article was originally published in The New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company