Medical professionals across the nation are facing such a severe shortage of medical gear that hospitals are being forced to find ways to reuse single-use masks, yet Immigration and Customs Enforcement is telling attorneys who want to see their clients that they must bring their own masks in order to do so, Miami Herald reports. The rule “was rolled out on Sunday despite such a current national shortage of protective equipment that has rocked the healthcare industry, leaving doctors and nurses on the frontlines empty-handed.”
So how are attorneys supposed to get a hold of masks in order to see their clients when there’s such a severe gear shortage that everyday folks have organized mask-making events for hospitals? Many won’t be able to, and that’s precisely ICE’s goal. “Sandy Pineda, an immigration attorney based in South Florida, said immigration officials aren’t allowing even some attorneys with medical equipment to see their clients,” Miami Herald continued. “Pineda said she visited Krome detention center in South Miami-Dade on Saturday with gloves and a mask, but that she was denied.”
Jeremy McKinney, second vice president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, immediately condemned the administration’s directive, saying “DHS’s new policy requiring attorneys to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) in detention facilities would deny access to counsel for detained immigrants. There is a severe shortage of PPE across the nation. This requirement will make it impossible for lawyers to represent their clients unless they rob health care providers who are working to save the lives of thousands of patients of desperately needed equipment.”
It’s clear that ICE is not only intentionally blocking detainees’ due process through this directive, it’s also worsening the coronavirus public health crisis. ICE is refusing to release even the most vulnerable of detainees from facilities, which are in no way prepared to properly care for sick people on any other day, much less during a pandemic. ICE claims its new directive is for the purposes of “keeping everyone safe, and helping detect and slow the spread of the virus,” but if the agency really meant that, it would release detainees.
Instead, advocacy groups have been forced to sue the administration to try to win the release of parents and children from a number of migrant family jails, where broken soap dispensers in rooms “have not been fixed despite their requests,” the lawsuit stated. “Hand sanitizer is only freely provided in the lobby and legal visitation room at Berks Center—two areas that detainees are not permitted to access. Detainees are housed in shared rooms and cannot remain 6 feet apart for social distancing within the constraints of detention. Sleeping quarters are very cramped,” while the entire facility, including a staff of about 60, eat at the same time in a shared cafeteria.
Does that sound like a place that truly cares about keeping people safe? Nope, and this new policy is no different. People in federal immigration detention deserve to be kept safe from this pandemic, but ICE’s own actions are only pushing them further into government-created danger. “ICE requiring attorneys to supply their own personal protective equipment to serve detained clients, when medical providers say they don’t have enough, is appalling and unconstitutional,” Allen Orr Jr., immigration attorney and former AILA vice president, told Miami Herald.