Even as lockdowns and other measures have been taken around the world to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has continued to detain people, move them from state to state and deport them. An investigation by The New York Times in collaboration with The Marshall Project showed how unsafe conditions and scattershot testing helped turn ICE into a domestic and global spreader of the virus and how pressure from the Trump administration prompted countries to take in sick deportees. More than 30 immigrant detainees described cramped and unsanitary detention centers where social distancing was near impossible and protective gear almost nonexistent. “It was like a time bomb,” said a Cuban immigrant held in Louisiana.
At least four deportees interviewed, from India, Haiti, Guatemala and El Salvador, tested positive for the virus shortly after arriving from the U.S. ICE has confirmed at least 3,000 coronavirus-positive detainees in its detention centers, though testing has been limited. More than 750 domestic ICE flights since March carried thousands of detainees to different centers, including some who said they were sick. A refugee from Kyrgyzstan was moved from the Pike County Correctional Facility in Pennsylvania to the Prairieland Detention Facility in Texas despite showing COVID-19 symptoms. He was confirmed to have the virus just a few days later. “I was panicking,” he said. “I thought that I will die here in this prison.” More than 200 deportation flights carried migrants, some of them ill with coronavirus, to other countries from March through June. Under pressure from the Trump administration and with promises of humanitarian aid, some countries have cooperated with deportations.