Americans need to use their time during social distancing to reflect on the treatment of immigrants in ICE detention centers.
by Erin Wright
As a college student during the COVID-19 outbreak, much like many other Americans, everything feels in flux. Nothing feels permanent, my classes are constantly changing, my email is flooded, my family is worried and my community has scattered across the country.
I read news articles and hear my family talking about the frustrations of having nothing to do. They talk about how taxing it is physically and emotionally to be locked in a house all day with no guarantee of when they will be able to move freely again. For many, food is limited. Finding toilet paper and Clorox wipes has now become quite the challenge. People feel trapped.
Individuals are concerned for the health and safety of their families, and they are incredibly lonely. I see so many mental health posts about how to maintain social interactions online. People don’t like the unknowns. Many of my college friends wonder when they’ll be able to return to school to feel loved by their community. They deeply miss their support base.
Today, as I reflected on all of these inconveniences and sad feelings, I thought of another person. My mind went to an article announcing that the first detainee in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center was confirmed positive for the novel coronavirus. This person is painfully familiar with chaos, loneliness, insecurity and boredom. They were taken from their community and locked away.
I learned this year about a place called Baker County Detention Center from a woman who had recently toured it. It is an ICE detention center located in Florida. Detainees are taken to this facility where there is one small window, empty white walls and limited contact with individuals from the outside world. An investigation into the facility showed that ”[detainees] spend most of their days in pods that hold 32 detainees, two detainees per cell,” and they are not allowed recreational time outside, ever.
Florida is overloaded with court cases so that these individuals in the Baker Detention Facility are unsure of when they will ever have the chance to leave. Their stay is indefinite as the average wait time for a court date surges to 678 days.
They are told that they have to pay to call their families, but most of them have no money. Oftentimes they worry about the financial security of their families, since they are no longer able to contribute. They are fed food that is nearly unidentifiable. These conditions will only get worse as officials try to slow the spread of COVID-19 within detention facilties.
The reality that we expect these real people to endure is what Americans are only experiencing a small portion of, and it seems unbearable. We as a nation need to ask ourselves if it is really acceptable to treat people this way. Would you wish what you are feeling right now, locked in your home, upon anyone else?
The federal government, along with state governments, has imposed rules on Americans telling us that we are not allowed to leave our homes. Imagine that your door to go outside is a border. Leaving your house promises a freedom you desire so badly. Many Americans feel that this border is too restrictive, and are choosing not to respect it. Americans are breaking the law, because they want to move freely. The restrictions feel limiting.
Now think about the immigrants our government is locking up in detention centers. They, too, wanted a freedom they so desired. They, too, felt trapped and sad. They, too, may have wanted to be with their family. They, too, broke rules to do so. However, they are the only ones being thrown into detention for it.
Does crossing a border deem someone deserving of less humane treatment? Does it make them any less human or capable of feeling scared, lonely or sad?
Maybe it is time that we as a nation re-evaluate, and recognize the humanity of all people. Our quarantine seems difficult, indefinite and uncertain. So does theirs. To them, the circumstances of COVID-19 are nothing new.
* Erin Wright is a political science student at the Univerity of Florida. This essay was reposted with the author's permission from Gainesville.com