COVID-19 infections surging in immigration detention facilities

There have been 7,500 new cases of COVID-19 in ICE detention facilities since April as they have ballooned from holding 14,000 to about 26,000 during that time, the New York Times reported Tuesday. 

The new cases account for almost 40% of the total cases in such facilities since the beginning of the pandemic, and ICE is blaming Customs and Border Patrol for the increase.

TRAC, a Syracuse University project that tracks immigration statistics, said that 82% of the detainees in June were apprehended by CBP, not ICE.

ICE officials have said that the new cases are mostly coming from CBP, since no testing and quarantining measures are in place there. When detainees get to an ICE facility, they are tested upon entry and quarantined for 14 days to prevent further spread if they are infected.

“Extremely urgent issue”

“Access to adequate health care in immigration detention centers was a problem before the COVID pandemic, and as the virus still rages in detention centers it’s an extremely urgent issue,” Rep. Jesús García (D-IL) said.

“We should be vaccinating everyone in custody to help with the pandemic and to help protect lives,” border security subcommittee chair of the House Homeland Security Committee Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-CA) said.

Only around 20% of detainees have received at least one dose of the vaccine, which is a much lower rate than in the rest of the U.S., even though supplies of the vaccine are abundant.

The Times report also pointed to violations of protocol at ICE facilities, such as incorrect mask wearing, that may be contributing to the spread.

Detainees may also be getting tested to early to detect transmission that occurs during transportation from CBP to the ICE facilities, the Times said. Recommendations are to test five days after exposure, but the detainees are tested as soon as they arrive.

Follow-up promised

Garcia said he would follow up with the administration to see whether conditions were improving as time goes on.

“By keeping migrants in crowded and unsafe conditions we place everyone at risk. I will follow up with the Biden administration on this matter to ensure that swift action is taken to protect people in immigrant detention centers from further spread of the Covid virus,” García said.

Most Americans think a better solution would be to reinstate former President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, which would lead to less crowded conditions and help prevent spread of the virus.

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