Over the past few weeks, Coronavirus (or COVID-19) has wreaked havoc all throughout the United States. One highly vulnerable population at this time includes immigrants who are currently being held in detention.
While Attorney General William Barr has ordered the release of medically vulnerable federal inmates, there has yet to be a nationwide effort by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to do the same for the more than 34,000 immigrant detainees around the country. Sixty percent of these detainees do not have criminal records and are only detained for immigration violations.
The Trump Administration is putting immigrant detainees at great risk by not mandating their release. According to Amnesty International, “ICE and its detention facilities have failed to adequately provide soap and sanitizer or introduce social distancing. Nor has it halted the unnecessary transfers of people between facilities in the interest of public health, routinely transporting thousands in and out of facilities.”
ICE has also continued to understate the number of detainees who have been exposed to or contracted COVID-19. Amnesty International has received reports of “suspected COVID-19 cases and lockdowns in multiple ICE facilities, where lawyers said ICE officials refused to comment on the health situations.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan has filed a federal lawsuit this week, demanding the release of immigrant detainees in Calhoun, Monroe, and St. Clair County Jail. Senior Staff Attorney, Miriam Aukerman, has said that “social distancing and strict hygiene are virtually impossible in a detention setting.”
One of the detainees who provided testimony for the lawsuit is Gener Alejandro Chinchilla-Flores, a 36-year-old Costa Rican national who has been detained at Monroe County Jail since Feb. 25, 2020. He has reported “numerous inmates are coughing and have reported an infestation of maggots.”
Jose Nicolas Chavez-Vargas, a 50-year-old Mexican national who has been detained at the Monroe County Jail since February 20, 2020, also provided testimony, stating, “Everyone sleeps in dormitories that house approximately 100 people, with about 50-60 bunk beds per dormitory. The beds are only 3 to 4 feet apart from each other. People continue to eat their meals communally, multiple times per day.”
While ICE continues to hold immigrants in detention, other county jails including Wayne have released all prisoners without felony cases and who do not pose a risk to public safety.
While it is clear that immigrant detention could lead to the deaths of many detainees due to the spread of COVID-19, it remains to be seen what measures ICE will take, if any, to protect the health and safety of this vulnerable population.