Remember how we noted back in April that immigration rights advocates and experts warned that Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) track record indicated that the mass detention agency would likely try to mislead the public and disguise confirmed COVID-19 cases inside its facilities? Testimony from four private immigration prison executives to House legislators on Monday confirmed they were right.
Roll Call reports that in that testimony, GEO Group, CoreCivic, Management & Training Corporation, and LaSalle Corrections executives told legislators that 900 of their employees so far had tested positive for COVID-19, flying in the face of the only 45 detention workers ICE has reported as of June 18. As we’ve previously noted, this is because ICE is only counting its own employees in its tally, and not contracted workers.
“CoreCivic reported to lawmakers that more than 500 out of its 14,000 employees had tested positive for the virus; GEO Group reported 167 cases out of 3,700 total staff; MTC noted that 73 out of 1,200 had been infected; and LaSalle said 144 out of 3,000 had contracted COVID-19,” Roll Call reported. The report noted that in one private immigration prison operated by Immigration Centers of America in Farmville, Virginia, 70% of the detainee population has tested positive for COVID-19.
This is and has always been a crisis, and private prisons that work with the federal government to jail people for billions in contracts also shoulder this blame.
Roll Call reports that while executives claimed they were “in large part” following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance regarding COVID-19 (even though the fact is that social distancing is impossible while in detention), they also said “they did not reject detainees who were transferred in from other facilities because of the possibility of introducing the virus at their centers. They also said they did not have a way to detect cases among people who were not showing symptoms.”
Two of these executives, CoreCivic’s Damon Hininger and LaSalle’s Rodney Cooper, also claimed during that same House testimony on Monday that they had no knowledge of the use of violent force against detained people by facility staff even though the use of pepper spray has been widely documented, meaning they either have no idea about what’s happening at their companies—and that’s a very generous excuse—or they misled Congress.
“In reality, people at CoreCivic facilities have been pepper-sprayed on at least four occasions,” Mother Jones reported. “At LaSalle, it’s happened on at least five occasions. And at GEO Group detention centers, the total is also at least five. Hundreds of immigrants and asylum seekers have been exposed to pepper spray during those uses of force.”
As of July 13, ICE claims that nearly 1,200 people currently in its custody have tested positive for COVID-19, including 315 people at the Farmville facility. That same ICE tally claims 45 workers nationally have tested positive, but as the executives’ testimony revealed, that number is much, much higher when looking at reality and not ICE’s self-serving fine print. However, as the executives’ testimony regarding abuses also showed, even the updated 900 number may be unreliable, and undercounting.