As millions of people in the U.S. shelter in their homes, and millions more who aren’t able to stay indoors practice social distancing or other measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19, a crisis is brewing in the facilities where immigrants are detained. Cramped conditions and inadequate access to hygiene or medical care have created what one medical expert called a “tinderbox” for the disease in a letter to Congress.
Many of those in detention are asylum seekers, who came to the U.S. to ask for protection after fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries. Many others were long-time U.S. residents who were picked up by ICE during workplace raids or traffic stops in recent months. Some have been fighting deportation for years-old criminal charges that may have been as minor as marijuana possession or a DUI. The Trump administration’s appetite for detaining people rather than allowing them to stay on supervised release during their immigration proceedings has been relentless. As public health experts warn that congregate facilities like immigration detention centers put detained people and the greater community at greater risk for infection, we are reminded that this obsession has endangered us all and forced tens of thousands of people to face the pandemic with virtually no protection at all.
The ACLU has been fighting to secure the release of as many detained immigrants as possible. While ICE says it’s released nearly 700 people from detention as of late this week, lawyers for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have fought the ACLU’s lawsuits tooth and nail. In one case, after a judge ordered 22 medically vulnerable immigrants released from two jails in Pennsylvania, DHS rushed to request a stay that would force them to remain inside.
Now, at least 100 detained immigrants have tested positive for COVID-19, according to ICE, and their numbers are growing every day.
Two of those who were released because of the ACLU’s suits are Alfredo Garza and Mario Rodas, Sr. Both have life-threatening medical conditions. In this week’s At Liberty podcast, we hear from them about what it’s like to be in an immigration detention facility during a pandemic, as well as Eunice Cho, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Prison Project. Eunice is part of the team that is working around the clock to file litigation and get medically vulnerable immigrants out of detention.
Listen to the new episode here, and for more details on Alfredo and Mario’s story, read our recent report.