U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been a horrifying and avoidable calamity, reports The Intercept. By handing out masks late, forcing detained people into close quarters, refusing to release the medically vulnerable, not reporting infections, testing inadequately, frequently transferring detainees, and pressuring staff to continue working despite compromised health, ICE’s actions have led to over 7,000 reported positive cases and at least eight coronavirus-related deaths among detained people. A new report from Detention Watch Network finds that the dire situation led to wider consequences: When spread in the communities surrounding detention centers is included, ICE’s sprawling incarceration system added nearly a quarter million cases to the U.S. caseload.
The report, “Hotbeds of Infection,” lays bare how ICE’s dilatory mismanagement killed and infected people inside detention centers and significantly contributed to the nation’s spread of COVID-19. By August 1, almost 5.5 percent of U.S. cases were attributable to spread from ICE detention centers. The report is another indication that ICE’s dereliction in protecting basic human rights, medical neglect, and lack of transparency in how it detains and treats people in 200 detention centers is a massive public health threat. “The impact of ICE’s failure to adequately respond to the pandemic was far reaching and multilayered,” the DWN report says. “Even as COVID-19 cases have surged across the country, ICE has ramped up enforcement activities, creating a recipe for disaster for those in detention and surrounding communities.” Danielle Bennett, an ICE spokesperson, says the agency “has taken extensive steps to safeguard all detainees, staff and contractors, including: reducing the number of detainees in custody by placing individuals on alternatives to detention programs, suspending social visitation, incorporating social distancing practices with staggered meals and recreation times, and through the use of testing, cohorting and medical isolation.”