Story at a glance
- Immigration and Customs Enforcement has detained thousands of people in centers across the country.
- A new study finds that there is a high risk of COVID-19 transmission in these centers.
- Advocates call for detainees to be released immediately to prevent the spread of the disease.
Prisons and jails have emerged as hotbeds for the spread of COVID-19 during the pandemic, but there is another type of holding facility that is at high risk: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers.
As of April 28, 425 detainees have tested positive for COVID-19, out of 705 detainees tested, as well as 124 ICE employees. As of April 18, ICE reported a total of 16,171 people detained in the United States. And a new model has found that those numbers are likely to grow, and fast.
“This modeling confirms Drs. Rich and Allen’s warnings to DHS in February and to Congress in March that immigrant detention poses a risk of a rapid spread of COVID-19 among immigrants, workers, and the general public that could overwhelm local health care facilities,” said Dana Gold, Government Accountability Project Senior Counsel and attorney for Josiah Rich and Traci Green, in a release.
In the best case scenario, according to the study, 72 percent of individuals at ICE detention facilities will be infected within 90 days, and in the worst case, nearly all will.
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“With increasing numbers of COVID-19 infections at ICE detention facilities being reported, this data bolsters recent decisions by courts to release immigrant detainees and calls by Congress seeking immediate release of immigrant detainees to address this clear health emergency,” said Gold in the release.
The study was conducted by researchers from a range of universities, including Brown and George Mason Universities in the United States. Using publicly available data, the model also sought to predict the capacity of local hospitals to care for additional ICE detainee patients over 30, 60, and 90 days.
In the best case scenario, a coronavirus outbreak in just three ICE facilities would overwhelm local ICU beds within a 50-mile radius over 90 days, according to the study.
“Keeping immigrants in detention is exacerbating what is already a public health crisis, which is why our interdisciplinary team of researchers recommends prompt widespread release of immigrants from these dangerous environments,” said Green, an epidemiologist at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University, in the release.
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