Migrants who have been detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement claim that the agency isn’t doing enough to protect them from contracting COVID-19, but ICE says that it’s following current safety guidelines, NPR reports.
One Cuban asylum seeker, who asked to be identified only as Raudel, told NPR that at the Adams Correctional facility in Mississippi where he was detained, migrants who had COVID-19 were put together in a single room without social distancing or masks, and that sick people were intermingled with healthy people while being transferred.
"Many people had coronavirus," Raudel said. "And they weren't worried about it."
Immigration attorney Mich Gonzalez of the Southern Poverty Law Center told NPR that ICE’s field office in New Orleans has moved and held and released detainees in an unsafe manner during the pandemic. NPR notes that data from ICE shows that the number of people in their facilities who have tested positive for COVID-19 has rapidly declined and increased over the course of the last year.
"It's a place where people are being transported and transferred out, transferred in and transferred out. Of course, they're going to be exposed there," Gonzalez said. "The precautions that are supposed to be taken don't really work well because they violate their own protocols."
A spokesperson for ICE, Dexter Henson, denied claims that their transfer policies are unsafe, saying that the agency only moves people when it is strictly necessary and that they check to ensure that no one being moved is sick.
"We're doing everything we can to make sure that those that are under our control, that they have ties to the community and a support network near the location that they're detained," he said.
According to Ellen McSweeney, senior assistant to the chief of staff for the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General, the Adams Correctional facility did have problems when examined by the DHS OIG during a random inspection.
"They didn't necessarily always follow sick calls with detailed notes. Nor follow up in terms of recordkeeping. The staff and the detainees were not consistently using masks, nor social distancing."
McSweeney noted that by May, ICE said it had incorporated many of the recommendations that the OIG made for the facility, but she added that the OIG has received other complaints about various ICE facilities across the country.
"We have now an ongoing audit that is looking in greater depth at ICE's approach to COVID-19 across detention facilities," McSweeney said.
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