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Report: DHS Admits ICE’s Policies Fueled Covid-19 Outbreaks In Jails

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Topline

The Department of Homeland Security admitted in an internal report that poor social distancing and frequent detainee transfers might have spread the coronavirus in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s jails this year, BuzzFeed reported Tuesday, seemingly bolstering months of allegations that ICE’s jails are ill-prepared for Covid-19 outbreaks.

ICE Holds Immigrants At Adelanto Detention Facility

A blind detainee walks with a fellow immigrant at the Adelanto Detention Facility on November 15, … [+] 2013 in Adelanto, California.

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Key Facts

ICE’s practice of moving detainees between jails might have allowed coronavirus to spread, according to BuzzFeed’s reporting on the DHS document.

Social distancing is often challenging in ICE’s detention centers, the report found, confirming the fears of advocates who warned this spring that some agency jails are so crowded that detainees cannot spread out and protect themselves from Covid-19.

The agency had an especially tough time tracking and preventing outbreaks in jails that hold both ICE detainees and non-ICE prisoners, many of which are run by local governments that contract with ICE, due to “gaps in information.”

At least least eight detainees have died from Covid-19 while in ICE custody, according to agency statistics last updated Monday, though experts warn the agency is possibly undercounting its death toll because it does not include people who died after they were released.

Some of these problems were alleviated after ICE changed its policies over the summer, the DHS report said.

According to ICE’s current policies, the agency tests all new detainees for Covid-19, isolates anybody who tests positive or shows symptoms, and works to keep occupancy rates low.

DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Big Number

6,387. That’s the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in ICE detention centers since the pandemic started, according to the agency’s statistics. Currently, ICE is monitoring 677 active infections in its jails.

Key Background

ICE has endured frequent criticism in recent years, but the coronavirus crisis has brought questions about jail conditions to the fore. Several ICE jails have faced brutal coronavirus outbreaks, with hundreds of detainees testing positive in a few facilities, and some advocates say ICE’s policies are to blame. Last month, a whistleblower report alleged a privately run detention center in Georgia was refusing to test some detainees for the coronavirus. Also, the Washington Post reported that ICE transferred detainees thousands of miles in June to a Virginia jail that later suffered a large outbreak, solely so the agency could fly ICE agents to protests in Washington on the same charter planes.

Chief Critic

“From providing insufficient hygiene and cleaning products to migrants, failing to track positive cases among contract workers, and not having sufficient personnel protective equipment (PPE), ICE has set the stage for outbreaks at its facilities,” the House Homeland Security Committee wrote in a report last month.

Further Reading

Federal Officials Now Say That Transferring Detainees Between Jails Holding Immigrants Contributed To Coronavirus Outbreaks (BuzzFeed)

ICE flew detainees to Virginia so the planes could transport agents to D.C. protests. A huge coronavirus outbreak followed (Washington Post)

Whistleblower Alleges Medical Negligence, Unnecessary Hysterectomies At Georgia ICE Facility (Forbes)

ICE Jails Retaliated Against Immigrants And Denied Adequate Healthcare, Report Finds (Forbes)

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