Federal courts have ordered ICE to provide minimal safety precautions to immigrants in detention. Soap. Water. Toilet paper. Reducing overcrowding to allow minimal social distancing. Detained immigrants still report lack of soap and sanitation supplies and dangerous overcrowding.
Now two immigrants have died of COVID-19 in detention. The first, 57-year-old Carlos Escobar Mejia, had lived in the United States for 40 years, died at Otay Mesa Detention Center:
“More than 40 immigrants held at the Otay Mesa Detention Center near San Diego are alleging that a recent detainee death of COVID-19 was caused by reckless and inhumane conditions, according to a letter begging the governor and other California lawmakers to intervene….
“Immigrants detained in the same pod as Escobar Mejia allege he spent several weeks alerting medical staff and correctional officers of his deteriorating condition. But officials ignored his repeated pleas for medical care and did not transfer him out of his pod until he was too sick to move, they said.”
The second, Oscar López Acosta, died from complications from coronavirus on May 11.
“On April 23, the staff of the Morrow County Jail in Gilead, Ohio, told immigration detainees that a feverish man they’d been sharing a crowded dorm with had tested positive for COVID-19. The next day, Immigration and Customs Enforcement abruptly released one of the men who’d potentially been exposed without testing him: Óscar López Acosta, a 42-year-old Honduran man with diabetes who’d spent 18 months in government custody.
“On May 3, López tested positive for COVID-19 after an ambulance took him from his home to the Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton. The next day, ICE confirmed that 47 people in its custody at Morrow County had tested positive. The jail was only holding 51 immigration detainees at the time. It was exactly what experts had warned would happen if ICE didn’t use its power to release people: Nearly everyone had become infected after sharing a dorm in which social distancing was impossible.” [emphasis added]
When a court orders that population in a detention center be reduced, ICE transfers detainees to other centers, where there are not yet protective court orders, rather than even considering bond. ICE pushes forward with deportation, even though this means exporting COVID-19 to impoverished countries in Central America.
Nearly a thousand detainees tested positive for COVID-19 as of May 9, about half of all those who have been tested.
Remember that most of the immigrants in detention pose neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community. Most are awaiting hearings on their petitions for asylum or for reunification with family members. When they are released, more than 95 percent of immigrants show up for all of their hearings, but ICE opposes bond for all immigrants as a matter of policy.