‘Our blankets and God are all the hope we have’

rini border fence

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has acted with “deliberate indifference” to the dangers of COVID-19 and its treatment of immigrants in detention centers constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, forbidden by the U.S. Constitution. That sounds like an activist denouncing ICE again, but this time the words come from a federal judge.  U.S. District Judge Marcia G. Cooke ordered ICE to cut its population in three South Florida detention centers.

“There is record evidence demonstrating that ICE has failed in its duty to protect the safety and general well-being of the petitioners. Social distancing at Krome is not only practically impossible, the conditions are becoming worse every day. Further, ICE has failed to provide detainees in some detention centers with masks, soap and other cleaning supplies, and failed to ensure that all detainees housed at the three detention centers can practice social distancing.”

The Miami Herald described conditions at the Krome Processing Center, one of the centers included in the judge’s order.

“It’s about 11:30 p.m., so the guards dim the overhead fluorescent lights and the immigration detainees slip into their barrack-style bunks, two-tier metal beds about three feet away from each other.

“That’s when a sea of red, orange and blue T-shirts and shorts fade under white blankets. The colors are used to tell the detainees apart by civil and criminal histories. Scattered sounds of coughing and sneezing make their way through the 2,000-square-foot detention pod.

“’Some of us start praying, and others just hide under the covers,’ said Miguel Torres, a 38-year-old-Mexican national who has been in ICE custody for about six months.

“’We don’t have masks so our blankets and God are all the hope we have.’”

The article goes on to describe detainees caring for a wheelchair-bound immigrant who is too weak to walk and needs to be carried to the bathroom and showers. He’s from Nicaragua, and has lived in the United States since he was granted political asylum about 40 years ago.

At other immigration detention centers across the country, immigrants who have protested lack of sanitation supplies or asked for more information about COVID-19 have had telephone access cut off or have been put in segregation as punishment.

“That is what happened on April 21 to five women at the Irwin County Detention Center in rural Georgia. Using a video-teleconferencing app available to detainees in many ICE facilities, they called one woman’s boyfriend, who recorded them describing overcrowding, deficient sanitation, and other conditions at Irwin that made them feel terrified about contracting Covid-19. One woman began sobbing as she begged to be released. The resulting video ended up on Spanish-language television, social media, and YouTube.

“In the video, the women said they knew they risked retaliation for going public. Their concerns proved well-founded. Now, according to a lawyer who represents one of them, they are crying at night, knocking on the walls to comfort one another, and screaming through the food slots to talk.”

On at least ten different occasions, detainee concerns over COVID-19 have been answered with pepper spray and force.

“The wife of another detainee at the facility, an immigrant from West Africa, described a similar incident. She requested anonymity to speak freely. According to the woman, her husband told her on Friday evening that the incident started after detainees were told they would be moved to another facility to be tested for coronavirus.

“She said her husband and other immigrants were scared of being moved to an area where detainees may have been exposed to the virus. ‘It’s not that he was refusing to be tested. It was just a matter of making sure that it was safe to move,’ the woman told CBS News.

“‘He told me he was pepper sprayed and that they had all these people there with dogs,’ she added.”

As of May 3, ICE reported 522 detainees tested positive for COVID-19 out of 1,073 who had been tested.

About Mary Turck

News Day, written by Mary Turck, analyzes, summarizes, links to, and comments on reports from news media around the world, with particular attention to immigration, education, and journalism. Fragments, also written by Mary Turck, has fiction, poetry and some creative non-fiction. Mary Turck edited TC Daily Planet, www.tcdailyplanet.net, from 2007-2014, and edited the award-winning Connection to the Americas and AMERICAS.ORG, in its pre-2008 version. She is also a recovering attorney and the author of many books for young people (and a few for adults), mostly focusing on historical and social issues.
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