A Trump administration attorney revealed in court on Thursday that four people detained at a federal immigration detention facility in Batavia, New York have tested positive for COVID-19, Documented reports. This occurred just days after a group of desperate detainees there penned an open letter essentially pleading for their lives and release.
“Many of us have come, begging at the doors for asylum, seeking to avoid being tortured, raped and murdered by different regimes, or those the regime favor,” the detainees said in the March 30 letter, describing persecution in their home countries including El Salvador, Venezuela, and India. But to remain detained at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in the midst of a pandemic, “we are like the proverbial lamb waiting to be slaughtered,” they write.
This danger was explicitly noted in a recent lawsuit filed by advocates seeking the release of detainees with medical issues, Documented reported, where “U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. Vilardo rejected their request that the detainees be released and instead ordered U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to implement the Centers for Disease Control guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus within the facility.”
But what detainees said in their letter, which was shared by Justice for Migrant Families WNY, was that ICE wasn’t taking the proper precautions to protect them: there are multitudes of staffers and contractors coming and going and making it impossible for them to isolate themselves from risk. "None of the Security, Food Service, Medical, Maintenance or Janitorial Staff are prohibited from leaving at the end of their shifts," they wrote. "They go home, go out, go shopping, all normal activities. However, they are the only ones who would introduce this dread killer into our midst."
“The DHS/ICE are not in the business of releasing detainees, even those within the highest risk categories,” they continued. “There are cancer victims, cardiac patients, diabetics, lung disease victims, those afflicted with chronic auto-immune diseases being detained here. Are we to be left to contract this disease and simply die? We are the sons and fathers; wives and mothers; brothers and sisters; grandfathers and grandmothers; friends and loved ones of others. Would the President own our deaths. How much longer would these cruel and inhumane immigration policies and laws result in suffering and eventual death?”
Numerous warnings from legislators and advocates that federal immigration officials’ refusal to release even the most medically vulnerable of detainees would have devastating results are beginning to come true. “According to ICE, 35 detainees have tested positive for COVID-19 across the country. This does not include the four mentioned on Thursday,” Documented continued. We also know that ICE appears to be fudging numbers in order to hide the outbreak it’s helping to spark.
“For weeks—and as recently as Monday—U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has repeatedly told the Herald that no detainees in their custody in Florida have tested positive for the virus,” a Miami Herald report this week said. “However, the agency got around having to disclose that any detainee was sick with COVID-19 because the detainee was technically no longer on the premises—but rather at a hospital, federal sources say.”
Meanwhile, thousands of others in custody continue to fear they’ll be next. “Please, publish our stories, our fear and anxiety,” the Buffalo detainees said. “Let the world know how we feel. To be left to contract this disease and die, without being able to see, or say something to our loved ones is our sad reality. Put our message out. Maybe, just maybe, the correct heart may be softened and we will be released to spend some time in freedom, than to die in detention.”