by Cindy Knoebel, from a report written by Freedom for Immigrants
Do we really know how many tests ICE has been performed in detention facilities? And how many detained people and staff have actually contracted the virus? Would anyone be surprised to learn that ICE might be underreporting both?
Freedom for Immigrants continues to receive reports of ICE refusing to perform tests for people exposed to the virus or exhibiting symptoms. We also have concluded that ICE is using an inconsistent approach to testing, and that the agency has no systematic efforts to trace and contain COVID-19 within immigration detention facilities. Furthermore, ICE's public reporting on confirmed cases continues to exclude contact staff and direct-hire staff. These troublesome findings are among others contained in Freedom for Immigrants' latest COVID-19 in Immigration Report.
ICE has continued to test at a higher rate - and has reported a rise in confirmed cases. But in the instances where mass testing was made available, this appeared to be in response to either an explicit judicial order, threat of an adverse judicial order, or public pressure. For example, on October 12, a person detained at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center reported that although a judicial order mandated weekly testing, it had been a week and a half since their last test and that staff had not taken their temperature in days. The person reported that a nurse at the facility admitted there was a lack of available personnel.
As of November 27, ICE reports that 614 people currently in custody have tested positive at 57 facilities. But the agency only releases information on the cumulative number of tests administered as opposed to the number of tests adminstered per facility, or information on the number of people currently in custody who have been tested for COVID-19. This makes it impossible to discern the current rate of COVID-19 transmission in custody - and leads to concerns that the true COVID-19 transmission rate in ICE detention is much higher than reported.
Also worrisome is ICE's stepped-up enforcement efforts, which is resulting in higher book-ins (despite the Department of Homeland Security's own admission that transfers can cause the virus to spread) and deportations.
In recent weeks, ICE has implemented expanded powers of expedited removal, in which ICE officers can arrest and deport undocumented immigrants unable to prove they've been in the U.S. for two or more years without a hearing before a judge. ICE has also expanded its enforcement in "sanctuary jurisdictions." For example, on October 16, ICE announced the arrests of 170 individuals in a one week period in Seattle, Denver, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, DC. On October 7, ICE announced the arrests of over 125 individuals in California.
Freedom for Immigrants has also noted an increase in mass deportations of Black immigrants. In an October 19 report, Witness at the Border reported that more than 1,000 Haitians were forced to return to Haiti via deportation or expulsion during the month of October alone, including children and families. On October 13, ICE deported 126 asylum seekers and immigrants from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cameroon, with many of those on board the flight expressing fear of redetention, abuse, torture and even death upon arrival.
Meanwhile, according to the FFI report, conditions inside ICE detention centers remain dire. We have continued to document the failure of facility staff to observe public health protocols, barriers to communication, inadequate access to food and essential supplies, as well as use of force and retaliation for internal organizing.