A recent analysis into the handling of COVID at ICE Detention centers by the NY Times recently brought to light some troubling findings. The analysis compared estimated infection rates in ICE detention centers with infection rates in prisons and in the general population. As Covid-19 cases rose last June, ICE detention facilities had an average infection rate five times that of prisons and 20 times that of the general population. The Study included discussions with former detainees, data scientists, lawyers, county officials and the family of a former ICE contractor about the spread of Covid-19 inside and outside ICE detention centers. It also reviewed court documents, medical records of detainees and government inspection reports from June 2020 to March 2021. The United States currently has the largest immigration detention system in the world. On any given day, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, holds tens of thousands of people in about 200 facilities across the country. And throughout the pandemic, these facilities have become some of the most dangerous places in the United States when it comes to Covid-19 outbreaks.
Detainees were found to have little protection from Covid-19 while in custody. There are a number of reasons Covid-19 hit ICE detention sites particularly hard, including spotty implementation of the agency’s own pandemic guidelines in its facilities. At the La Palma Correctional Center in Arizona for example, a recent government inspection report found repeated violations of mask-wearing and social-distancing protocols. According to the report, detainees staged peaceful protests to draw attention to these conditions, and were violently punished by detention center staff. Another problem is the lack of testing. At a Senate hearing last June, Henry Lucero, ICE’s executive associate director of Enforcement and Removal Operations, testified that anyone experiencing Covid-19 symptoms in custody would be tested for the coronavirus. But that wasn’t always true as many reports showed. At another detention center in Farmville, Va., ICE’s failure to contain the virus last summer led to an outbreak of about 250 cases, out of roughly 300 detainees in the facility. One later died of Covid-19.