Department of Homeland Security

First immigrant in ICE detention center tests positive for coronavirus

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Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials on Tuesday announced that the first immigrant being held in an ICE detention center has tested positive for the coronavirus.

In a statement, ICE identified the patient as a 31-year-old Mexican national who is being held in Bergen County Jail in Hackensack, N.J. ICE announced that no new inmates would come to the facility “until further information is available.”

“The individual has been quarantined and is receiving care,” the release said. “Consistent with CDC guidelines, those who have come in contact with the individual have been cohorted and are being monitored for symptoms.”

A correctional officer at Bergen County Jail tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday, reported

The first positive case in ICE detention follows warnings from advocates, medical experts and former Department of Homeland Security officials to evacuate the centers of people vulnerable to the virus, namely the elderly and those who suffer from underlying health conditions.

Andrea Flores, deputy director of policy in the Equality Division at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), said health experts have warned that detainees are “sitting ducks for the spread of the virus.” Once outbreaks in centers begin, “they will spread rapidly,” she said.

“The suffering and death that will occur is unnecessary and preventable,” Flores said in a statement Tuesday. “ICE must take immediate and drastic steps to reduce the number of people in detention. If it doesn’t, it will be to blame for a humanitarian crisis.”

Heidi Altman, the litigation director for the National Immigrant Justice Center, told BuzzFeed News that detainees were learning of the virus through news reports and from friends and family. She added that immigrants in detention are reporting a lack of access to soap and hand sanitizer and that inmates with flu-like symptoms were entering the facilities. 

“Learning of the pandemic through the television and correspondence with family and friends on the outside, but without reliable information or training on precautionary measures from staff, leaves our clients in detention with more questions than answers as to how to protect themselves and others,” Altman said, according to the news outlet.

More than 37,000 immigrants are in ICE detention centers in private and local jails, where medical care is provided by either ICE directly or private or public contractors. ICE also reported that a guard at the Montgomery Processing Center in Conroe, Texas, had tested positive for the virus. 

The House Oversight and Reform Committee opened an investigation in December into the medical care of detainees, before the coronavirus had hit the U.S. 

The U.S. has documented more than 51,500 cases of COVID-19 in the country and almost 675 deaths as hospitals struggle to obtain enough medical equipment to treat the growing number of infections.

The ACLU last week sued ICE to allow migrants susceptible to the disease to be released from detention centers in Washington state, which has been hit hard by the virus.

Updated at 4:54 p.m.

Tags Coronavirus COVID-19 detainees ICE immigrants Immigration and Customs Enforcement
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