ICE Detentions Cost Lives During the COVID-19 Pandemic
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has put up a giant smokescreen that conceals its faulty response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lack of action that ICE is taking to protect its detainees is starting to emerge due to Freedom of Information Act filings from organizations like the ACLU.
It’s unfortunate that it’s necessary to file a Freedom of Information Act Request from a large federal agency like ICE that's supposed to exhibit professionalism and transparency. What's even more unfortunate is that ICE's recent efforts to cover up its response to COVID-19 further contributes to its reputation as an organization that lacks oversight and accountability.
Let's begin by unpacking the impact that COVID-19 has had on immigration detention centers so we can understand why ICE's recent behavior is so dangerous.
The Impact of COVID-19 in Detention Centers
While the negative effects of COVID-19 are widespread, the pandemic impacts vulnerable populations like migrants the most, as the conditions in ICE detention centers are not conducive to social distancing. Unsanitary and overcrowded detention center conditions led to 20% of all ICE detainees testing positive for COVID-19 this past August.
Access to medical attention and testing during the COVID-19 pandemic should be a basic human right. As COVID-19 rapidly spreads through overpopulated ICE detention centers, detainees have reported that detention officials deny people's requests for testing and proper medical care. ICE's lack of desire to improve their response to COVID-19 doesn't only affect detainees—it affects their staff as well. Three officers died due to COVID-19 complications between April and May.
ICE's unwillingness to disclose accurate information on their response to COVID-19 is one of the main reasons why their detention centers are turning into a death sentence. Data postings from ICE back in May claimed that the number of detainees testing positive for COVID-19 was larger than the actual amount of people tested. Data irregularities make it difficult to organize a proper COVID-19 response plan. Accurate data reflects how much intervention is required to improve a COVID-19 hot spot and provides the opportunity for officials to evaluate the improvement effort's progress over time.
Let's take a closer look at how ICE's lack of transparency fuels the COVID-19 fire in detention centers.
ICE's Lack of Transparency
There are plenty of red flags with ICE's behavior during this pandemic. ICE has banned Congress oversight tours, discontinued social visits, and made it more difficult for detainees to access legal assistance. ICE's failure to provide timely and accurate information on their response to the problem of COVID-19 in their detention centers is causing the problems within their facilities to grow.
We've seen an ACLU case where ICE's Deputy Assistant Director for Healthcare Compliance swore that all detainees in Maryland detention centers with COVID-19 symptoms received testing. After the court reviewed ICE's records, the statement that ICE's Deputy Assistant Director for Healthcare Compliance was proved to be false.
A case brought on by the ACLU of Ohio reflected that the 40 snapshots of temperature readings that ICE provided on behalf of the Morrow County Jail didn't show any detainee cases with fevers. Eight of the temperature measurements were below 96 degrees. The low-temperature readings that ICE provided signal submission of inaccurate readings.
If you need any more convincing that ICE's actions display an attempt to cover up scathing information, there have been many instances where ICE has blocked local governments from releasing COVID-19 data. New Jersey is an example of a state where these types of blockages have occurred.
The trend we've been seeing is ICE's lack of transparency makes it difficult for the public to receive a full picture of what's going on behind closed doors. We cannot make progress without accurate and complete information.
ICE's recent behavior becomes increasingly disturbing when you learn why their detainees are so vulnerable to COVID-19.