Advocates have warned it’s not a matter of if the coronavirus crisis hits immigrant detainees, it’s a matter of when. That when now appears to be here. BuzzFeed News’ Hamed Aleaziz reports that an immigrant held at a New Jersey facility is the first Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainee to test positive for the coronavirus. ”The detainee has been held at the Bergen County Jail, where last week local officials reported that a correctional officer at the facility had also tested positive,” Aleaziz said.
The site is among a number of New Jersey facilities that in recent days have been criticized by advocates for poor conditions, leading some desperate detainees to begin hunger strikes for their release. At the Hudson County Correctional Facility, some are being forced to strike for soap and toilet paper. “Each cell does not have enough materials to disinfect. There is bacteria everywhere,” detainees said in a statement released by New York Immigrant Family Unity Project.
Officials could at the very least release particularly vulnerable people, but they’re continuing to endanger lives in the midst of this growing pandemic—and being evasive about it. When a staffer at the Elizabeth Detention Center went into self-quarantine after showing COVID-19 symptoms, the facility refused to say whether the person was a medical worker. ICE has since confirmed that staffer tested positive—and that the person was a medical worker.
In a tweet, The Nation’s Ken Klippenstein revealed the approaching public health crisis that has been creeping into federal immigration detention:
Meanwhile, the Trump administration is demanding more money for more cruelty. No:
In migrant family jails, parents are also complaining about unsafe conditions. “My son and I are in a room with about nine other people,” said one asylum-seeker in a lawsuit against the Trump administration. “We sleep very close together, and there is very little space to maintain distance from other people when we are in the room. When I am laying down in my bed, I can touch the bed next to me. My son has a cough and other people in our room also have a cough. They have never quarantined the people who have a cough.”
ICE is creating a “massive public health crisis” by refusing to free people, the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project said. “With confirmed reports that an ICE staff member in Elizabeth Detention Center and a staff member in the Bergen County Jail in New Jersey have tested positive for coronavirus, it grows clearer that it is only a matter of when, not if, an outbreak of COVID-19 will ravage immigrant detention facilities.”
Free them now.