Immigrants held in U.S. detention centers have been particularly vulnerable to the spread of communicable diseases, including thousands who were put under quarantine last spring for mumps, measles, flu and other illnesses. It is unclear whether the coronavirus could pose a serious concern for U.S. authorities and the tens of thousands of foreigners in their custody, the Washington Post reports. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detains nearly 38,000 people in more than 130 private and state-run jails and prisons, many of which sit in rural areas and operate with minimal public oversight. ICE spokeswoman Jenny Burke said aspects of the agency’s pandemic workforce protection plan, developed in 2014, have been in effect since January to prevent and mitigate the spread of coronavirus among the detainee population and staff.
ICE said that as of March 3, four detainees had met the criteria for coronavirus testing, but none has tested positive. The agency declined to say whether any more detainees have been tested as infection numbers climbed nationwide. Immigration advocates are concerned about the potentially devastating impact a coronavirus outbreak could have inside the crowded federal immigration jails. The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and Human Rights Watch this week called on the Trump administration to develop a strategy to prevent and mitigate such an outbreak at facilities that have long been plagued by allegations of detainee abuse and inadequate medical care. ICE officials said the agency has 20 detention facilities run by its Health Service Corps, including 16 equipped with airborne infection isolation rooms, where officials said they plan to house detainees deemed at risk for covid-19 or displaying symptoms.