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Immigration Detention and Covid-19

Immigration enforcement strategies must change to help alleviate the worst damage of Covid-19.

Last Updated: January 7, 2022
Published: March 27, 2020

Covid-19 poses a grave threat to those in immig­ra­tion custody, includ­ing those being held along the south­ern border and at other immig­ra­tion facil­it­ies around the coun­try. The condi­tions at some of these facil­it­ies are deplor­able, and it would be uncon­scion­able to place addi­tional people into these facil­it­ies absent an extraordin­ary reason. The federal govern­ment, in part­ner­ship with state and community actors, must create a compre­hens­ive response to minim­ize the impacts of Covid-19 on those who are at risk of arrest by immig­ra­tion author­it­ies. The federal govern­ment should also dramat­ic­ally reduce the number of people in immig­ra­tion deten­tion.

On May 6, Carlos Ernesto Esco­bar Mejia, a 57-year-old man from El Salvador, died in ICE custody in South­ern Cali­for­nia. He was the first person die in ICE custody after test­ing posit­ive for Covid-19. For an updated list of those who have died in ICE custody due to Covid-19, see The Amer­ican Immig­ra­tion Lawyers Asso­ci­ation’s “Deaths at Adult Deten­tion Centers” website. A year after Meji­a’s death, the Wash­ing­ton Post repor­ted nearly 1,500 active Covid-19 cases in ICE deten­tion centers compared with just 60 cases in the much-larger Federal Bureau of Pris­ons. 

Immig­ra­tion Enforce­ment

Bren­nan Center Recom­mend­a­tion: ICE and CBP should suspend all immig­ra­tion-related arrests unless the person to be arres­ted presents a seri­ous risk to public safety inde­pend­ent of their immig­ra­tion status. The Depart­ment of Justice should not initi­ate any new prosec­u­tions for immig­ra­tion offenses absent a threat to public safety.

  • On March 18, ICE announced that it would tempor­ar­ily scale down arrests, except for those that “pose a threat to public safety.” Specific­ally, ICE’s Covid-19 guidelines state that: “ICE Enforce­ment and Removal Oper­a­tions (ERO) will focus enforce­ment on public safety risks and indi­vidu­als subject to mandat­ory deten­tion based on crim­inal grounds. For those indi­vidu­als who do not fall into those categor­ies, ERO will exer­cise discre­tion to delay enforce­ment actions until after the crisis or util­ize altern­at­ives to deten­tion, as appro­pri­ate.”
  • One day after the head of ICE announced the policy change, Acting Deputy Secret­ary of Home­land Secur­ity Ken Cuccinelli tweeted that, because “the health and safety of Amer­ic­ans is para­mount,” the agency would continue to “conduct enforce­ment oper­a­tions.”
  • Since the March 18 announce­ment, ICE has contin­ued to make arrests around the coun­try, includ­ing the recent arrest of a teen­ager from a New York City shel­ter. 
  • As of the third week of June, the CDC indef­in­itely exten­ded a March order that bars migrants seek­ing protec­tion at land borders, includ­ing chil­dren. Despite US anti-traf­fick­ing law that requires Border Patrol to trans­fer chil­dren to the Office of Refugee Reset­tle­ment, chil­dren are still being turned away.
  • Despite the Chuck­walla Valley State Prison having a massive coronavirus outbreak, ICE arres­ted three inmates upon their release from the prison in early June, and trans­ferred them to the Adelanto deten­tion center.
  • The Trump admin­is­tra­tion has used Title 42 of the US Code (a meas­ure related to public health) to strip asylum-seekers of legal protec­tions, forcibly return­ing them to communit­ies that many believe are danger­ous. Over 2,000 chil­dren have been returned to large, poten­tially unsafe cities as unac­com­pan­ied minors under this process in the past few months.
  • Six North Caro­lina jails have entered into new contracts with ICE during the pandemic, and many immig­ra­tion rights organ­izers have repor­ted that ICE subsequently increased immig­ra­tion enforce­ment in May and June. This agree­ment has also facil­it­ated trans­fers between jails/pris­ons and deten­tion centers, of which ICE is not required to report details, as they are below the regional level. Immig­ra­tion advoc­ates fear that these agree­ments are further­ing the virus’s spread.
  • Due to their know­ledge of ICE pres­ence at court­houses, some undoc­u­mented people in Texas are “self-evict­ing” in response to land­lords threat­en­ing evic­tion. Despite the fact that undoc­u­mented tenants have the same rights as anyone else during the evic­tion process, advoc­ates say that many such tenants fear ICE deten­tion and deport­a­tion if they try to exer­cise their rights.
  • On July 21, Mayor Bill De Blasio of New York City announced the Land­lord-Tenant Medi­ation Project, an altern­at­ive to evic­tion proceed­ings that bypasses the court system entirely. This provi­sion, while broadly applic­able, will allow undoc­u­mented people who fear being detained by ICE at court­houses to safely defend their rights as tenants during the pandemic.
  • Because of mass furloughs at US Citizen­ship and Immig­ra­tion Services, many lawful immig­rants who applied to become citizens months ago may not be able to vote. The COVID-related furloughs have caused massive delays at USCIS that will likely not be resolved before the elec­tion, given that the agency already had 700,000 pending natur­al­iz­a­tion applic­a­tions at the begin­ning of the pandemic.
  • In Novem­ber, lawyers from Columbia Law School sued in federal court to prevent the deport­a­tion of people who survived or witnessed coer­cive gyneco­lo­gical proced­ures at an ICE deten­tion center in Geor­gia.
  • On Novem­ber 18, a federal judge in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. blocked the Trump admin­is­tra­tion from deport­ing any more unac­com­pan­ied migrant chil­dren who arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • A number of people were released from prison facil­it­ies during the Covid-19 pandemic, only to be trans­ferred directly into ICE custody. Four of those people sued the state of Cali­for­nia in Decem­ber, seek­ing over $25,000 in damages for each person due to the “harms and higher health risks from Covid-19” they faced while held in immig­ra­tion deten­tion centers.
  • On Febru­ary 1, DHS announced that ICE will not conduct enforce­ment oper­a­tions “at or near” vaccin­a­tion sites or health­care facil­it­ies, in order to encour­age people to get vaccin­ated regard­less of their immig­ra­tion status.
  • As of April 8, undoc­u­mented immig­rants in Flor­ida were being turned away when trying to receive the Covid vaccine because the state requires people to present a valid Flor­ida driver’s license or U.S. govern­ment-issued photo iden­ti­fic­a­tion, a util­ity bill with a Flor­ida address and the indi­vidu­al’s name, or a rental agree­ment. Many undoc­u­mented immig­rants do not have these forms of iden­ti­fic­a­tion, and many work in high risk settings as essen­tial work­ers.
  • On April 8, a coali­tion of immig­ra­tion advoc­ates sued the Biden admin­is­tra­tion for expand­ing on a Trump-era policy barring entry from vari­ous coun­tries in light of the pandemic. The State Depart­ment has stopped issu­ing visas in response to the policy, and advoc­ates assert that while the pres­id­ent has a right to suspend entry into the U.S., this does not require the State Depart­ment to stop issu­ing visas.
  • On June 30, DHS Secret­ary Alejandro Mayor­kas missed his second self-imposed dead­line for draft­ing new deport­a­tion rules and policy recom­mend­a­tions for whom ICE should target. Mayor­kas said he would­n’t have the new rules writ­ten until August or Septem­ber but even that dead­line might slip.
  • In July, the Biden Admin­is­tra­tion announced it will review thou­sands of deport­a­tions from the Trump Admin­is­tra­tion, permit­ting some immig­rants back into the US.
  • On June 24, Docu­mented NY repor­ted that a chaotic reopen­ing of immig­ra­tion courts is making New York immig­rants fear deport­a­tion. Jodi Ziese­mer, the director of the Immig­ra­tion Protec­tion Unit at the New York Legal Assist­ance Group, estim­ates that of the 150,000 pending cases in New York immig­ra­tion courts, two-thirds were affected by the pandemic shut­down. 
  • On Thursday, July 15, Ed Gonza­lez, a Texas sher­iff and Biden’s nominee to lead ICE, test­i­fied before the Senate Home­land Secur­ity Commit­tee. If confirmed, he would be the first senate-confirmed director of ICE in more than four years.
  • As of July 16, the US Customs and Border Protec­tion agents have made more than a million arrests at the US-Mexico border this year, which is higher than any full-year total since at least 2005.
  • About 100,000 employ­ment-based green cards are at risk of expir­ing due to the applic­a­tion back­logs from the pandemic.
  • On July 28, Texas Governor Gregg Abbott issued an exec­ut­ive order, allow­ing Texas Depart­ment of Public Safety troop­ers to stop any car suspec­ted of carry­ing undoc­u­mented immig­rants. Abbott said the order is due to the surge in Covid cases, which he blames on the increase in undoc­u­mented immig­rants enter­ing the state. On July 29, the DOJ sued Abbott to block the order, and six days later the ACLU filed a federal lawsuit against Abbott, arguing the order is racial profil­ing. On July 30, a federal judge issued a tempor­ary restrain­ing order stop­ping the exec­ut­ive order.
  • Los Angeles has created a perman­ent program with $4 million in public fund­ing for migrants facing deport­a­tion. The LA Justice Fund began as a pilot program in 2017 and provides attor­neys to low-income migrants facing deport­a­tion.
  • On July 30th, the Senate confirmed Ur Jaddou as the next director of US Citizen­ship and Immig­ra­tion Services, which hasn’t had a Senate-confirmed leader in over two years. She will become the first woman and the first of Arab and Mexican descent to hold the posi­tion.
  • The Asso­ci­ated Press repor­ted that the number of chil­dren at the Mexico border reached an all-time high with US author­it­ies pick­ing up more than 19,000 unac­com­pan­ied minors in July.
  • In early August, the Biden admin­is­tra­tion announced that it will be hiring an addi­tional 1,000 asylum officers and another 1,000 support staff to help speed case processing at the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • On Tues­day, August 17, DHS announced that it will begin imple­ment­ing a new case manage­ment program, rely­ing on support help from nonprofits to track and offer more assist­ance to migrants through the Altern­at­ives to Deten­tion program. This new case manage­ment pilot program will “provide coun­sel­ing and support services to the migrants in conjunc­tion with part­ner­ing nonprofits and local govern­ments that will be eligible for reim­burse­ment funds.”
  • On August 19th, A federal judge in Texas blocked guidelines that limit who ICE should arrest or deport. The guidelines were put in place by the Biden Admin­is­tra­tion early this year. 
  • On Octo­ber 3rd, The Biden Admin­is­tra­tion announced new enforce­ment guidelines to replace rules blocked by a federal judge in August. The new policies only allow author­it­ies to pursue people inside the U.S. border who have entered after Novem­ber 1st, 2020, or “pose a threat to public safety.” The rules take effect on Novem­ber 29, 2021.
  • On Octo­ber 13, the Biden Admin­is­tra­tion ordered ICE to stop conduct­ing work­place raids and large-scale arrests. The announce­ment memo from the Depart­ment of Home­land Secur­ity instructs immig­ra­tion offi­cials to util­ize new strategies to better protect work­ers and target exploit­at­ive employ­ers.

Immig­ra­tion Deten­tion

Bren­nan Center Recom­mend­a­tion: ICE and CBP should release all indi­vidu­als who are not a “cred­ible threat” to public safety on parole/bond, includ­ing all people without a crim­inal record or with only a minor viol­a­tion as their most seri­ous crim­inal convic­tion. This would encom­pass most of the detained popu­la­tion.

  • Follow­ing a lawsuit by ACLU Massachu­setts, ICE released two immig­rant detain­ees from an immig­ra­tion deten­tion facil­ity in Massachu­setts. Both detain­ees had seri­ous preex­ist­ing medical condi­tions that put them at a higher risk of illness or death were they to contract Covid-19. 
  • On March 28, Judge Dolly M. Gee ordered the federal govern­ment to “make continu­ous efforts” to release migrant chil­dren from federal deten­tion facil­it­ies. Although she did not order an imme­di­ate release, she did order that ICE and the Office of Refugee Reset­tle­ment must provide an account of their efforts to release those in custody by April 6. 
  • ALDEA-The People’s Justice Center in Read­ing, the Rapid Defense Network in New York, and the Refugee and Immig­rant Center for Educa­tion and Legal Services, or RAICES, in San Anto­nio, Texas, recently filed a suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia demand­ing that the govern­ment release all famil­ies currently detained at ICE’s Family Resid­en­tial Centers across the coun­try. On March 30th, Judge James Boas­berg denied the afore­men­tioned request for release. However, he did demand that the govern­ment produce a report in one week detail­ing whether the facil­it­ies are in compli­ance with CDC guidelines for “congreg­ate” facil­it­ies. He also said that the govern­ment must turn over videos docu­ment­ing the over-crowding at the facil­it­ies in ques­tion. 
  • The Amer­ican Civil Liber­ties Union, the ACLU of Wash­ing­ton, and the North­w­est Immig­rant Rights Project (NWIRP) recently sued ICE on behalf of immig­rants held in the Tacoma North­w­est Deten­tion Center in Tacoma, Wash­ing­ton. The lawsuit seeks the release of indi­vidu­als who are in civil deten­tion and are at a high risk of seri­ous illness or death were a Covid-19 infec­tion to occur in the deten­tion center.
  • On April 4, ICE direc­ted field offices nation­wide to reas­sess custody of anyone over 60, as well as those of any age with chronic illnesses comprom­ising their immune systems. 
  • On April 9, U.S. District Judge James E. Boas­berg ordered ICE to disclose the number of releases they have gran­ted or denied from deten­tion centers in five south­ern states to migrants considered at higher risk of dying from Covid-19. 
  • On April 10, the Marshall Project repor­ted that deport­a­tion hear­ings for unac­com­pan­ied migrant chil­dren are proceed­ing across the coun­try, includ­ing in Covid-19 hotspots such as New York City and Los Angeles. The Exec­ut­ive Office for Immig­ra­tion Review, the DOJ agency in charge of the immig­ra­tion courts, has rejec­ted calls from judges, prosec­utors and immig­ra­tion lawyers to shut down immig­ra­tion courts nation­wide.
  • On April 14, immig­ra­tion attor­neys in Aurora, Color­ado sued for the release of 14 medic­ally vulner­able detain­ees. After the lawsuit was filed, ICE released eight women out of the plaintiff group, all of whom are HIV posit­ive. 
  • As of April 16, ICE had released nearly 700 detain­ees from custody. Accord­ing to advoc­ates in New Jersey, where there have been severe Covid-19 outbreaks in immig­ra­tion deten­tion facil­it­ies, ICE has released at least 245 detain­ees from immig­ra­tion deten­tion. 
  • On April 23, a federal judge in Los Angeles ordered ICE to reduce the number of detain­ees at a facil­ity in Adelanto, Cali­for­nia, so that detain­ees can prac­tice safe social distan­cing amid the Covid-19 pandemic. In order to reduce the popu­la­tion at the facil­ity, the judge said that ICE would be expec­ted to release at least 100 detain­ees by April 27, and at least 150 more detain­ees by April 30. 
  • In April, U.S. District Judge Marcia G. Cooke ordered ICE to shrink its detainee popu­la­tions to 75 percent of capa­city to allow for social distan­cing at three immig­ra­tion deten­tion facil­it­ies in South Flor­ida. On May 10, ICE told Cooke in a court filing that, as of May 7, they had reduced the facil­it­ies to 71 percent capa­city, 74 percent capa­city, and 65 percent capa­city, respect­ively.
  • The former acting director of ICE called on the agency to release all nonvi­ol­ent, low flight risk detain­ees.
  • Two doctors, who are contrac­ted experts for the Depart­ment of Home­land Secur­ity’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liber­ties, wrote a letter to Congress asking the depart­ment to consider releas­ing all detain­ees who do not pose a risk to public safety. The doctors are co-direct­ors and co-founders of the Center for Pris­oner Health and Human Rights.
  • More than 3,000 phys­i­cians signed on to a letter to ICE urging the agency to release all detain­ees while their legal cases proceed, partic­u­larly those in high-risk categor­ies (the elderly and immuno-comprom­ised). The letter was writ­ten by phys­i­cian members of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest Medical Providers Network and Doctors for Camp Clos­ure.
  • On April 7, Amnesty Inter­na­tional released a report and state­ment call­ing for the United States to release all immig­ra­tion detain­ees from deten­tion, "except in the most extraordin­ary of circum­stances requir­ing ongo­ing deten­tion.”
  • More than 60 women detained at the North­w­est Deten­tion Center in Tacoma, Wash­ing­ton have gone on a hunger strike. They are demand­ing the imme­di­ate release of vulner­able people, human­it­arian visas to detain­ees, and a morator­ium on deport­a­tions and trans­fers. 
  • On April 29, ICE released 6 migrant women from an El Paso immig­ra­tion deten­tion facil­ity. The release came five days after the women filed a peti­tion for a writ of habeas corpus on April 24, seek­ing their release from ICE deten­tion because of under­ly­ing health condi­tions that put them at risk of complic­a­tions from Covid-19. 
  • Migrants detained at the La Palma ICE facil­ity in Arizona (oper­ated by Core­Civic) say that they were forced to clean the facil­ity without adequate PPE. On August 29, ICE confirmed 233 new cases at the La Palma center, bring­ing its total to 356 cases.
  • At the Eloy Deten­tion Center in Arizona, Covid-19 cases increased by 460% from June 11 to June 15. ICE spokes­per­son Yasmeen Pitts O’Keefe has said that the surge is due to increased test­ing, and that Eloy has restric­ted intake in response.
  • At the Port Isabel Deten­tion Center in South Texas, posit­ive Covid-19 cases have increased from four cases on June 5 to 54 cases on June 22. ICE offi­cials are repor­ted to have refused test­ing to 32 people who reques­ted it because they felt sick.
  • Immig­ra­tion lawyers and advoc­ates have received hundreds of requests from people in ICE deten­tion, who are seek­ing deport­a­tion to avoid the risks of being held in crowded deten­tion facil­it­ies during the pandemic. Due to the scarcity of masks and other essen­tial hygiene products in ICE facil­it­ies, seek­ing deport­a­tion seems safer to many, even though it gener­ally means forfeit­ing one’s immig­ra­tion case.
  • As of June 2020, concerns have been raised that ICE is signi­fic­antly under­re­port­ing their COVID cases. The Vera Insti­tute has designed its own epidemi­olo­gical model based on ICE’s trans­fers and deten­tion facil­it­ies, and estim­ates that the number of COVID-19 cases in their custody could be 15 times higher than ICE reports. Still, ICE main­tains that they are follow­ing hygienic proced­ure, and contin­ues to book thou­sands of people into custody.
  • At the end of June, US District Judge Dolly Gee ordered that chil­dren who had been housed at family resid­en­tial centers (about 1% of the total popu­la­tion detained by ICE) for more than 20 days be released by no later than July 17. Gee specified that the releases were essen­tial for the health of those in facil­it­ies. Acting DHS Secret­ary Chad Wolf respon­ded that ICE would not allow a “jail­break,” assert­ing that the people in ICE facil­it­ies have no right to be in the coun­try.
  • At the Farm­ville ICE Deten­tion Center in Virginia, nearly 75% of detain­ees have contrac­ted COVID-19, height­en­ing alarm among immig­ra­tion advoc­ates who have been publi­ciz­ing the center’s poor condi­tions. In June, there were 49 cases at the deten­tion center. At that time, the center also received a trans­fer of 74 detain­ees from Arizona and Flor­ida facil­it­ies. Now, as of July 22, 268 out of 360 detain­ees at Farm­ville are confirmed as posit­ive.
  • Based on mid-July data from ICE and the Texas Depart­ment of State Health Services, people in Texas deten­tion centers are 15 times more likely to have an outbreak of COVID-19 than the rest of the state’s popu­la­tion. Nearly 30 detain­ees across the state report that ICE offi­cials are still fail­ing to provide adequate social distan­cing and medical care.
  • Immig­rants at the Stew­art deten­tion center run by Core-Civic in Geor­gia repor­ted on July 23 that they are consist­ently denied COVID-related medical help, and viol­ently punished to the point of injury for request­ing it. This follows reports that Core-Civic officers pepper-sprayed detain­ees at the Stew­art deten­tion center in April.
  • At Sherburne County Jail in Minnesota, ICE detain­ees have repor­ted that author­it­ies habitu­ally deny people for COVID tests (even when symp­toms like chest pains and coughs are present), and threaten indef­in­ite isol­a­tion and punish­ment if detain­ees are sick. This comes a month after Minnesota governor Tim Walz announced that Minnesota had reached its goal of making 20,000 tests avail­able each day.
  • The US govern­ment has yet to release immig­rant chil­dren detained with their parents, despite the dead­line for their release this week set by a federal judge. Instead, this July, more parents and chil­dren were held in the three centers covered by the order than were held the month before.
  • Attor­neys are call­ing for the imme­di­ate release of dozens of ICE detain­ees, after the Bergen County jail’s air condi­tion­ing failed over the week­end of July 25 and 26. Temper­at­ures reached the 90s, and attor­neys wrote that their clients were endur­ing “oppress­ive and danger­ous condi­tions” that added even more danger to the ongo­ing pandemic.
  • On August 29, a 50-year-old Honduran man who had contrac­ted Covid-19 while in ICE custody died at a Texas hospital. He had been detained at the Joe Corley Processing Center in Conroe, Texas, where, accord­ing to agency stat­ist­ics, 50 people have tested posit­ive for the disease since the begin­ning of the pandemic.
  • On Octo­ber 7, ICE repor­ted that at least 400 detain­ees at La Palma Correc­tional Center in Eloy, Arizona have tested posit­ive for Covid-19 – the most for any federal immig­ra­tion facil­ity in the nation, followed by Atlanta Field Office Stew­art Deten­tion Center with 360 posit­ive cases.
  • Within two weeks at the end of Septem­ber, 16 people held at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center had been hospit­al­ized due to Covid-19. On Octo­ber 8, the facil­ity repor­ted 147 active Covid-19 cases among people detained there, making its outbreak the largest of all ICE facil­it­ies.
  • On Octo­ber 14, a letter led by Rep. Linda Sánchez, chair of the Congres­sional Hispanic Caucus task force on immig­ra­tion, reques­ted that the Depart­ment of Home­land Secur­ity provide Congress with a writ­ten plan to handle the conver­gence of flu season and the Covid-19 pandemic within immig­ra­tion deten­tion facil­it­ies. The letter also called for common flu vaccines to be given to all those detained in ICE custody.
  • On Octo­ber 22, the LA Times repor­ted that at least 19 women at the Irwin County Deten­tion Center have accused Dr. Mahendra Amin, the Center’s the primary gyneco­lo­gist, of forcing them to undergo unwar­ran­ted gyneco­lo­gical surger­ies which often left them unable to have chil­dren.
  • On Octo­ber 26, the ACLU returned to the U.S. District Court for the East­ern District of Michigan in support of medic­ally vulner­able immig­rants detained in the Calhoun County Jail. Rely­ing on testi­mony from detain­ees, the ACLU argued that the jail has not been enfor­cing Covid-19 precau­tions and is incap­able of keep­ing safe the people held there.
  • On Novem­ber 6, the Otay Mesa Deten­tion Center announced that it is exper­i­en­cing a second wave of Covid-19 infec­tions, follow­ing a deadly outbreak in the spring that infec­ted more than 200 people detained there and killed at least one person. The facil­ity repor­ted at least 40 active cases, though those behind bars expressed concern of greater spread.
  • On Novem­ber 4, research­ers repor­ted in JAMA that Covid-19 has spread through ICE deten­tion centers at more than 13 times the national rate, on aver­age.
  • Immig­rants from Cameroon, who were detained at the Adams County Correc­tional Center in Missis­sippi, have filed a lawsuit that alleges officers “phys­ic­ally assaul­ted them, blas­ted them with pepper spray and pressed their bodies and necks on the ground to the point where they could no longer breathe.” Repres­en­ted by the South­ern Poverty Law Center, the complaint explains that the abuse was enacted in an effort to force the immig­rants to sign deport­a­tion papers.
  • At the end of Novem­ber, ICE offi­cials began push­ing in court to increase the number of immig­rants detained in Cali­for­nia. In court docu­ments, the agency’s lawyers argued that ICE should be given "flex­ib­il­ity" to detain more people instead of being subject to a court order that “locks in how they might use their hous­ing units.”
  • In an invest­ig­a­tion published on Decem­ber 3, journ­al­ists revealed that immig­rants detained at the Etowah County Deten­tion Center in Gadsden, Alabama were punished for request­ing Covid-19 test­ing. In a recor­ded conver­sa­tion, “one employee described the events of July 6 as an attempt to 'bully’ people into not getting tested.” Later in the record­ing, both employ­ees revealed that “immig­rants inside Etowah appeared too scared to seek even basic medical care.”
  • On Decem­ber 9, federal immig­ra­tion offi­cials argued that they should be released from a nation­wide court order that compels them to provide special care to disabled people in ICE deten­tion. This asser­tion, raised in response to a class action lawsuit filed this summer that argued disabled detain­ees are being discrim­in­ated against due to a lack of adequate mental and phys­ical health care, comes during numer­ous outbreaks of Covid-19 at multiple ICE facil­it­ies.
  • On Decem­ber 11, the Deten­tion Watch Network released a report docu­ment­ing that the “lack of a quick and effi­cient response” to Covid-19 in immig­ra­tion deten­tion facil­it­ies caused nearly a quarter of a million infec­tions nation­wide between May 1 and August 1.
  • On the same day, advoc­ates filed a court order seek­ing the release of people held at the immig­ra­tion deten­tion facil­ity in Tacoma, Wash­ing­ton. The order also seeks other virus spread-mitig­a­tion meas­ures to be imple­men­ted at the facil­ity, as part of a lawsuit filed by the ACLU and North­w­est Immig­rant Rights Project.
  • On Decem­ber 12, ICE announced the first posit­ive Covid-19 tests among people detained for immig­ra­tion-related reas­ons in Wiscon­sin. They join the 7,888 other people with posit­ive cases repor­ted by ICE nation­wide since the pandemic began, though the true number of infec­tions is likely much larger.
  • Amid rising Covid-19 cases in Arizona, the Eloy Immig­ra­tion Court, inside a deten­tion facil­ity where over 300 people have tested posit­ive for Covid-19, began rein­stat­ing in-person hear­ings in Decem­ber. Immig­ra­tion lawyers and advoc­ates for detained people have raised concerns about the decision’s poten­tial to increase Covid-19 expos­ure, but the court has ignored their concerns.
  • The family of Carlos Ernesto Esco­bar Mejia, the first person to die in ICE custody due to Covid-19, filed a lawsuit on Decem­ber 22 alleging that negli­gence and delib­er­ate indif­fer­ence led to his wrong­ful death. At least eight people have died in ICE custody since the pandemic began.
  • On Decem­ber 21, lawyers for a group of women detained at the Irwin County Deten­tion Center filed a class action peti­tion and complaint, alleging rampant non-consen­sual medical inter­ven­tions and retali­ation for speak­ing out. The case will be heard by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Geor­gia.
  • Reports from advoc­ates and invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ists about the condi­tions of confine­ment for detained immig­rants continue to paint a bleak picture of Covid-19 behind immig­ra­tion deten­tion facil­ity bars. For example, those inside the Stew­art Deten­tion Center (which is oper­ated by the private company Core­Civic) report “wretched food, ice cold showers,” and exten­ded peri­ods of isol­a­tion. Detain­ees and their lawyers have brought complaints of inad­equate medical care, food access, and little-to-no social distan­cing meas­ures aside from placing infec­ted indi­vidu­als in solit­ary confine­ment. As of Janu­ary 4, there were at least 429 confirmed cases of Covid-19 at the Stew­art Deten­tion Center, in addi­tion to a minimum of three deaths.
  • On Janu­ary 6, the Abol­ish ICE NY-NJ Coali­tion, speak­ing on behalf of some indi­vidu­als detained at the ICE deten­tion facil­ity in Newark, NJ, announced that 86 people within the facil­ity are parti­cip­at­ing in a hunger strike to demand their release from ICE custody. They feel that, given the agency’s inab­il­ity (or unwill­ing­ness) to prevent Covid-19 from spread­ing inside facil­it­ies, detain­ees should be able to continue their immig­ra­tion cases while living with friends or family.
  • In a Janu­ary report from the Deten­tion Watch Network, research­ers found that counties contain­ing ICE facil­it­ies “repor­ted COVID-19 cases earlier, exper­i­enced faster spread of the virus, tended to have worse outbreaks, and had a higher like­li­hood for a health care emer­gency”. In partic­u­lar, the ICE facil­it­ies in El Paso, Texas are blamed for more than 1,200 cases of community spread in that area.
  • On Janu­ary 19, a report revealed that deaths in ICE custody “skyrock­eted” during the Covid-19 pandemic, with Texas lead­ing the coun­try with the most immig­rant detainee deaths from 2018–2020.
  • In a study released on Janu­ary 21, research­ers found that deaths among detained immig­rants in ICE custody “increased seven­fold since April 2018, despite far fewer people being in custody.” Released by a team from the Univer­sity of South­ern Cali­for­nia, the study attrib­utes the rising death rate to a multi­tude of factors, includ­ing rampant spread of Covid-19, high rates of suicide, and substand­ard medical care offered in ICE facil­it­ies. There were 21 deaths in ICE custody in fiscal year 2020, most of which were due to Covid-19. That number was nearly triple 2019 deaths, even though the total popu­la­tion of detained immig­rants dropped by a third.
  • On Janu­ary 22, eight immig­rants filed a group habeas peti­tion in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Geor­gia in an attempt to gain imme­di­ate released from the Stew­art Deten­tion Center, where they face increased risks of expos­ure to Covid-19. The lawsuit alleges that ICE has been acting in viol­a­tion of a Supreme Court ruling that prohib­its the agency from detain­ing people for more than six months if deport­a­tion will not occur in the “reas­on­ably forsee­able” future. 
  • On Janu­ary 24, the Seattle Times released an invest­ig­a­tion detail­ing years of personal inter­views of people detained by ICE at the North­w­est Processing Center, where immig­rants report prob­lems ranging from inad­equate medical care, poor nutri­tion, unsan­it­ary living condi­tions, and forced labor.
  • An outbreak at the Stew­art Deten­tion Center in Geor­gia has led to four deaths from Covid-19, along with almost 500 confirmed cases of the coronavirus by the first week of Febru­ary.
  • In March, Gov. Greg Abbott refused help from the Biden admin­is­tra­tion in provid­ing Covid-19 test­ing to immig­rants before they are released from federal custody, declar­ing that it is the respons­ib­il­ity of the federal govern­ment, not Texas, to screen immig­rants enter­ing the coun­try. The day before this rebuke, it was announced that more than 100 people were released from Border Patrol custody after test­ing posit­ive for Covid-19.
  • As of March 18, advoc­ates repor­ted that at least 54 pris­on­ers had died from Covid-19 after their requests for compas­sion­ate release were denied. A report from the Univer­sity of Iowa College of Law showed that incar­cer­ated people who should have been eligible to be released under coronavirus-related circum­stances died because the judi­ciary system was over­whelmed with requests.
  • On March 31, the Wash­ing­ton state senate passed a bill banning private, for-profit pris­ons and immig­rant deten­tion facil­it­ies in the state. The bill would close the North­w­est Deten­tion Facil­ity in Tacoma, the only private prison in the state. 
  • As of April 1, ICE had released hundreds of people to curb the spread of Covid-19 in its deten­tion centers. However, the agency contin­ues to pay for a “guar­an­teed minimum” number of empty beds, which keeps costs down for private compan­ies oper­at­ing deten­tion facil­it­ies. The Biden admin­is­tra­tion plans to phase out private pris­ons but has yet to take steps to address private immig­rant deten­tion facil­it­ies.
  • On March 30, the Depart­ment of Home­land Secur­ity released a report about the condi­tions at La Palma Correc­tional Center, an Immig­ra­tion and Customs Enforce­ment deten­tion center in Eloy, Arizona. The report detailed unsafe Covid condi­tions includ­ing not provid­ing protect­ive equip­ment to those detained at the facil­ity or requir­ing guards to wear masks. The facil­ity has had over 700 people contract Covid.
  • As of March 31, an alarm­ing number of unac­com­pan­ied minors detained in ICE facil­it­ies have tested posit­ive for Covid. Advoc­ates argue that the high volume of cases is related to negli­gence at border facil­it­ies who lack medical supplies.
  • On April 7, a March 2020 class action lawsuit filed on behalf of those detained at the Bris­tol County House of Correc­tion was settled. The settle­ment allows for the contin­ued release of the 43 indi­vidu­als previ­ously released on bail, release of six other people, and the option to trans­fer to a differ­ent facil­ity for the remain­ing seven people.
  • On April 15, Wash­ing­ton Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill to shut down the North­w­est Deten­tion Center in Tacoma, one of the coun­try’s largest for-profit immig­rant deten­tion centers. The insti­tu­tion will close by 2025 when the deten­tion center’s contract with ICE expires.
  • As of April 28, a Covid-19 outbreak at a private ICE deten­tion center owned by GEO Inc. in Color­ado promp­ted health offi­cials to invest­ig­ate vaccin­a­tions at the facil­ity. Offi­cials report that the outbreak came after migrants were trans­ferred to the facil­ity from deten­tion centers at the U.S. border and that the facil­ity has only admin­istered vaccines once.
  • On May 17, the GEO Group sued Wash­ing­ton state, claim­ing that a recently enacted law mandat­ing the clos­ure of its deten­tion facil­ity in Tacoma would “uncon­sti­tu­tion­ally subvert federal author­ity.”
  • On May 20, the Biden admin­is­tra­tion announced plans to stop detain­ing immig­rants at two ICE facil­it­ies that are the subject of ongo­ing federal invest­ig­a­tions. DHS Secret­ary Alejandro Mayor­kas ordered the imme­di­ate termin­a­tion of ICE’s contract with the Bris­tol County Sher­iff’s Office in Massachu­setts and and an to the contract with the Irwin County Deten­tion Center in Geor­gia “as soon as possible.”
  • At the Core­Civic-run Torrance County Deten­tion Center, more than 16 staff members and 110 detained persons tested posit­ive for Covid-19 in the last week of May. The company declined to provide updated numbers at the end of the week regard­ing the extent of the outbreak among people detained at the facil­ity.
  • On May 19, 15 immig­rants’ rights groups filed a civil rights and liber­ties complaint with the Depart­ment of Home­land Secur­ity against the Adams County Deten­tion Center in Natchez, Missis­sippi, alleging detained immig­rants are being held in close quar­ters and do not have regu­lar access to soap or disin­fect­ant supplies. The complaint also explains that ICE has not created a vaccin­a­tion plan for incom­ing immig­rants, guards refuse to wear facemasks, and the New Orleans ICE Field Office trans­fers detained immig­rants after short peri­ods of time at ACDC incom­pat­ible with Covid-19 proto­cols. 
  • On May 28, the National Immig­rant Justice Center filed a civil rights and liber­ties complaint with the Depart­ment of Home­land Secur­ity on behalf of two immig­rant women, who are in ICE custody and detained at Clay County Jail in Brazil, Indi­ana. The complaint alleges detained immig­rants are not given face masks or hand soap and those who test posit­ive for Covid-19 are not given their test results or medic­a­tion for pain.
  • On June 11, Carlos Rios, a natur­al­ized US citizen from Mexico, sued ICE for detain­ing him in Tacoma, Wash­ing­ton for a week, even though he had his pass­port with him and repeatedly told agents he was an Amer­ican. 
  • On June 14, a federal volun­teer who spent two weeks at Fort Bliss Army Base in El Paso, Texas, publi­cized that para­med­ics are repeatedly called to treat detained chil­dren suffer­ing from severe panic attacks in ICE facil­it­ies. On July 28, two more whis­tleblowers came forward alleging that the Depart­ment of Health and Human Services told them to down­play the hundreds of Covid-19 infec­tions among chil­dren at the migrant shel­ter in Fort Bliss, Texas. 
  • On June 14, the Seattle Times repor­ted that since the begin­ning of June, federal author­it­ies have trans­ferred hundreds of immig­rants to North­w­est ICE Processing Center in Tacoma, Wash­ing­ton, and now 29 immig­rants have tested posit­ive for Covid-19. A class-action lawsuit has been filed by the North­w­est Immig­rant Rights Project and the Amer­ican Civil Liber­ties Union of Wash­ing­ton on behalf of older and medic­ally vulner­able indi­vidu­als. 
  • The ACLU and Phys­i­cians for Human Rights published a report examin­ing what happens when immig­rant detain­ees go on hunger strikes. The report found that ICE force-fed immig­rants, used excess­ive force, and threatened immig­rants with deport­a­tion or relo­ca­tion to other facil­it­ies. 
  • A report published by The Inter­cept on June 20 found that the six-fold increase in Covid-19 cases from March to May coin­cided with the ICE’s decision to do inter-facil­ity trans­fers. The report also emphas­ized that ICE’s refusal to system­at­ic­ally provide vaccines also contrib­uted to the increase in Covid-19 cases. 
  • On June 22, Geor­gia Public Broad­cast­ing repor­ted Stew­art ICE Deten­tion Center, run by Core­Civic, in Lump­kin, Geor­gia had 47 immig­rants in isol­a­tion or under monit­or­ing for Covid-19. In total, there have been 700 Covid-19 cases and 4 Covid-19 related deaths at the facil­ity.
  • On June 22, asylum-seekers and attor­neys with the South­east Immig­rant Free­dom Initi­at­ive of Louisi­ana condemned the horrendous condi­tions at a Louisi­ana ICE deten­tion center. One asylum-seeker cited the facil­ity had little food, a lack of toilets, no hot water, and frigid temper­at­ures inside the facil­ity. 
  • Internal ICE records and emails, obtained by The Inter­cept, revealed that ICE surveilled immig­rant advocacy organ­iz­a­tions in person and online by track­ing groups’ protests and social media posts. At one point, ICE sugges­ted the agency might retali­ate and bar visit­a­tions from organ­iz­a­tions.
  • On June 21, civil rights groups and immig­rant advoc­ates filed a federal complaint regard­ing the condi­tions at Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center in Louisi­ana, alleging unsafe drink­ing water, moldy food, a lack of medical care, or access to legal coun­sel, and the use of punit­ive solit­ary confine­ment. 
  • On June 29, 30 detained immig­rants at Essex County Jail were trans­ferred to an unknown loca­tion, among them were some men who were on a hunger strike, protest­ing being sent to another loca­tion and demand­ing to be released.
  • On June 30, the ACLU of New Jersey and the National Immig­ra­tion Project of the National Lawyers Guild filed a federal class-action lawsuit seek­ing to stop ICE from trans­fer­ring detained immig­rants from Essex County Jail to facil­it­ies hundreds of miles away from New Jersey. Detained immig­rants are facing the threat of being trans­ferred as the Essex Jail prepares to end its rela­tion­ship with ICE.
  • On July 8, the Texas Tribune repor­ted that almost 150 guards are staff­ing an empty Texas prison as state officers work on Governor Greg Abbot­t’s plan to use it for immig­rants and increase the state’s role in border enforce­ment.
  • Fifteen detained and previ­ously detained immig­rants at New Jersey’s Bergen County Jail filed a complaint with the Depart­ment of Home­land Secur­ity, alleging medical negli­gence, reli­gious discrim­in­a­tion, sexual assault, and retali­ation against immig­rants by staff.
  • On July 21, activ­ists blocked entrances to a Home­land Secur­ity Invest­ig­a­tions field office in Newark to protest the trans­fers and deport­a­tions of detained immig­rants in New Jersey.
  • Audio record­ings from inside the Fort Bliss facil­ity in Texas revealed alleged sexual miscon­duct by staff towards immig­rant minors. The federal contractor also acknow­ledged the lack of clean under­wear, socks, and shoes avail­able for chil­dren in the audio.
  • On August 2, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker signed a law that will end immig­ra­tion deten­tion and restrict local law enforce­ment’s abil­ity to collab­or­ate with federal immig­ra­tion author­it­ies. Jails that contract with ICE to house immig­rants must end by Janu­ary 2022 and new agree­ments will not be allowed.
  • Also on August 2, the CDC exten­ded Title 42, allow­ing the US to expel immig­rants due to Covid-19. The Title was initially enacted by Pres­id­ent Trump. Advoc­ates have called for the end of the policy since it prevents most asylum seekers from apply­ing for human­it­arian protec­tion.
  • On August 9, attor­neys repres­ent­ing immig­rant chil­dren detained by the U.S. filed papers asking a judge to release the chil­dren from emer­gency shel­ters, call­ing them “unsafe, unsan­it­ary, and damaging to chil­dren’s phys­ical and mental well­being.”
  • By August 10, an outbreak of Covid-19 at the North­w­est ICE Processing Center in Tacoma, a facil­ity for detained immig­rants, had risen to at least 150 cases, includ­ing seven guards and a federal health care worker.
  • As of August 13, roughly 22,000 immig­rants in ICE custody had received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine  a 167% increase from early July. At the same time, the agency repor­ted that 6,000 people held by ICE have so far declined to be vaccin­ated.
  • On August 13, the ICE office in Newark confirmed that it has exten­ded its contract with the private company oper­at­ing the Eliza­beth Contract Deten­tion Center until at least Septem­ber of 2023.
  • As of August 17, the Essex County jail in New Jersey no longer held any immig­rants detained by ICE, four months after the county annouced that it would termin­ate its contract with the agency.
  • On August 23rd, A federal judge ordered ICE to test all detained people before they are trans­ferred to the North­w­est Processing Center, in an effort to prevent cross-expos­ure.
  • On Septem­ber 10th, a privately-contrac­ted ICE Deten­tion center in Eliza­beth, New Jersey broke CDC guidelines and now faces a lawsuit that could termin­ate its contract.
  • On Septem­ber 14th, The Depart­ment of Home­land Secur­ity’s Office of Inspector General released a report summar­iz­ing ICE’s hand­ling of the Covid-19 pandemic along with recom­mend­a­tions for future conduct. The report found that ICE failed to safely handle the safety and health of detain­ees by not requir­ing mask­ing in facil­it­ies and by misman­aging sick people who were detained there—to the extent of not know­ing if they have received treat­ment at all.
  • On Septem­ber 27th, ICE repor­ted that Stew­art Deten­tion Center, a federal immig­ra­tion center in Lump­kin, Geor­gia, has tallied over a 1,000 Covid-19 cases and 4 deaths over the course of the pandemic and cred­ited the spread to the facil­ity’s unsafe condi­tions.
  • On Octo­ber 2nd, Clear­field County Board of Commis­sion­ers announced a new five-year deal with ICE, which will bring a new federal immig­ra­tion deten­tion center to Clear­field, Pennsylvania. The facil­ity will be construc­ted to hold an estim­ated 1,900 people but will begin capping its capa­city at 800 due to Covid-19 safety proto­cols.
  • On Octo­ber 7th, county offi­cials announced that Bergen County jail in New Jersey will no longer hold people for ICE, instead the facil­ity will only detain those await­ing a federal trial or people who have been sentenced and are await­ing place­ment.
  • On Octo­ber 12, the Clay County Jail in Brazil, Indi­ana announced plans to double its capa­city for detain­ing people in ICE custody. The decision came as a response to Illinois’ recent ban on immig­ra­tion deten­tion contracts, making Clay County the only deten­tion center between Wiscon­sin and Kentucky.
  • On Octo­ber 28, the Amer­ican Civil Liber­ties Union of Pennsylvania filed a suit against the Clear­field County commis­sion­ers, alleging that they viol­ated state law when they approved the open­ing of an immig­ra­tion deten­tion center. The lawsuit states that the county commis­sion­ers did not notify the public before they met with ICE and the GEO Group, which would be a viol­a­tion of the state’s Sunshine law.
  • Numer­ous ICE deten­tion centers in Louisi­ana have been exposed as break­ing agency protocol in the release of asylum seekers, forcing them to pay for their trans­port­a­tion to an airport or bus station upon release. This trans­port­a­tion can cost upwards of $200 and under ICE release proto­cols, should be covered by the agency.
  • On Novem­ber 9, San Mateo County Sher­iff Carlos Bolanos stated that his office would end cooper­a­tion with ICE by no longer assist­ing immig­ra­tion author­it­ies with releases and custody trans­fers.

Govern­ment Trans­par­ency

Bren­nan Center Recom­mend­a­tion: Immig­ra­tion deten­tion author­it­ies should make public their quar­ant­ine/emer­gency plans, both to the public and to those in immig­rant deten­tion, and their success in execut­ing those plans.

  • ICE has released its policy on how to mitig­ate disease spread in deten­tion facil­it­ies. It reads as follows: “Detain­ees who meet CDC criteria for epidemi­olo­gic risk of expos­ure to Covid-19 are housed separ­ately from the general popu­la­tion. ICE places detain­ees with fever and/or respir­at­ory symp­toms in a single medical hous­ing room, or in a medical airborne infec­tion isol­a­tion room specific­ally designed to contain biolo­gical agents, such as Covid-19.”
  • The afore­men­tioned White House budget request includes a request for personal protect­ive equip­ment for deten­tion center staff as well as funds to convert four facil­it­ies into dedic­ated quar­ant­ine facil­it­ies, with higher stand­ards of sanit­a­tion and janit­orial services.
  • On March 13, ICE suspen­ded all social visits to deten­tion facil­it­ies.  
  • Private prison compan­ies, which oper­ate a major­ity of ICE deten­tion centers, have issued their own Covid-19 responses, noting changes in staff­ing proced­ure, clean­ing/hygiene, and visit­ing policies. On March 13, GEO Group released a press state­ment. Notably, the state­ment did not include any specific details about quar­ant­ine policies, separ­a­tion, or increased access to medical care beyond ordered tests. Core­Civic also issued a state­ment on their Covid-19 response, again without specific policy changes. Note that as of March 17, 10 detain­ees in one of GEO Group’s deten­tion facil­it­ies in Color­ado were being isol­ated after possible expos­ure to the coronavirus.
  • The South­ern Poverty Law Center’s South­east Immig­rant Free­dom Initi­at­ive and part­ner organ­iz­a­tions sent a letter to ICE field offices in the Deep South urging them to “imme­di­ately make public all proto­cols ICE and its contract­ors are imple­ment­ing to control the spread of Covid-19 inside scores of immig­rant deten­tion centers not run by the Immig­rant Health Services Corps (IHSC), which only oper­ates 20 facil­it­ies nation­wide” and “grant release from custody to all detained indi­vidu­als at high risk of seri­ous effects from Covid-19.” Note that advoc­ates and health profes­sion­als have expressed concern over ICE’s abil­ity to follow through on these policy guidelines, partic­u­larly in rural or smal­ler deten­tion facil­it­ies.
  • Immig­rant detain­ees at three ICE deten­tion centers in New Jersey have launched hunger strikes demand­ing their release, either on bond or another form of community correc­tions. The hunger strikes were launched in response to danger­ous, unsan­it­ary condi­tions in the deten­tion centers and the threat of a disease outbreak. “They’re not taking any meas­ures to protect us,” one detainee told Vice. “They haven’t done any clean­ing. We spent three days without soap.” 
  • On May 21, the Inland Coali­tion for Immig­rant Justice and Free­dom for Immig­rants filed a civil rights complaint with the Depart­ment of Home­land Secur­ity, alleging detain­ees have been subject to chem­ical expos­ure at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in San Bern­ardino County, Cali­for­nia. Several people detained at the facil­ity repor­ted that the frequent use of a disin­fect­ant used at the facil­ity has caused people to have eye irrit­a­tion, bloody noses, and to cough up blood. 
  • ICE has been releas­ing COVID-19 test­ing data inter­mit­tently, with peri­ods of silence up to a month long. Addi­tion­ally, ICE is only report­ing the posit­ive tests and total tests, which makes it impossible to construct a reli­able daily posit­ive rate, as the number of daily tests some­times exceeds the number of tests admin­istered in repor­ted data.
  • Rep. Mark Takano from River­side, Ca is call­ing for invest­ig­a­tions by the House Commit­tee on Home­land Secur­ity into the excess­ive use of toxic chem­ic­als at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center. Many unanswered inquir­ies have been made with ICE offi­cials about the extens­ive indoor use of HDQ Neut­ral in response to COVID, as people detained at Adelanto have claimed that the disin­fect­ant is continu­ing to cause seri­ous injur­ies (e.g., nosebleeds, burn­ing eyes, migraines, respir­at­ory issues).
  • People detained at the Otay Mesa Deten­tion Center, which is in the midst of a mass COVID outbreak, report dire condi­tions, a lack of medical care, and the repeated use of pepper spray by offi­cials in response to hunger strikes. Addi­tion­ally, advoc­ates for those incar­cer­ated at Otay Mesa say that they were forced to sign contracts writ­ten solely in English in exchange for improper PPE.
  • In July 2, at the Torrance county deten­tion facil­ity in New Mexico, a group of Cuban asylum seekers were assaul­ted with pepper spray by ICE officers for organ­iz­ing a hunger strike. ICE policy allows the use of pepper spray by offi­cials to “gain control” of someone in ICE custody, with the specific­a­tion that deten­tion facil­it­ies must keep records of such uses of force. No docu­ment­a­tion of the Torrance county incid­ent was shared.
  • On June 29, seven detain­ees who were in the process of suing ICE were trans­ferred from a Pennsylvania jail without any COVID cases to an Alabama jail that had up to 20 active cases of COVID-19. The ACLU calls this “blatant retali­ation” by ICE in its lawsuit.
  • On Wednes­day, July 22, a federal judge denied a blanket request to release famil­ies in ICE custody as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Judge James E. Boas­berg recog­nized short­falls in ICE’s COVID response, but argued that peti­tion­ers “must demon­strate that no court-ordered remedy other than their release will do.”
  • U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw denied the ACLU’s request to release medic­ally vulner­able detain­ees on July 22, find­ing that the Imper­ial Regional Deten­tion Facil­ity in Cali­for­nia had taken appro­pri­ate preven­tion and protec­tion meas­ures. He cited the fact that only two detain­ees tested posit­ive in his decision, despite the ACLU’s argu­ment that the IRDF had not tested all detain­ees and wasn’t maxim­iz­ing social distan­cing.
  • A former officer at the Rich­wood Correc­tional Center in Louisi­ana has repor­ted that he was instruc­ted to blast the air condi­tioner to “freeze out” ICE detain­ees so they could pass temper­at­ure checks to be depor­ted. Whis­tleblowers’ accounts show that LaSalle Correc­tions (the private company that runs Rich­wood) also delib­er­ately with­held PPE and vital inform­a­tion from staff and detain­ees to prevent panic, result­ing in the deaths of two ICE officers and at least 65 posit­ive cases among detain­ees.
  • Accord­ing to Border Patrol agents, as of July 28, the Trump admin­is­tra­tion is continu­ing to use public health code Title 42 to quickly return immig­rants who cross the border, even those who are inten­ded to go through a formal legal process (e.g., asylum seekers and chil­dren) before being refused entry. A leaked Border Patrol memo from April indic­ates that the federal govern­ment is oper­at­ing under the assump­tion that public health law super­sedes immig­ra­tion law.
  • The Trump admin­is­tra­tion has agreed not to expel a group of unac­com­pan­ied immig­rant chil­dren detained in a Texas hotel during the pandemic, but has not stated whether ICE will stop using hotels to detain chil­dren. The 17 chil­dren covered by ICE’s agree­ment were removed from the hotel in which they were detained, but as of July 27, ICE refuses to disclose their new loca­tion.
  • In Septem­ber, a whis­tleblower who worked as a nurse at an immig­ra­tion deten­tion center in Geor­gia filed a complaint that alleges a lack of medical care and unsafe work prac­tices that facil­it­ated the spread of Cocid-19. The nurse also repor­ted that immig­rant women in the facil­it­ies have been forcibly ster­il­ized through hyster­ec­tom­ies.
  • Accord­ing to HHS offi­cials, the Trump admin­is­tra­tion spent months pres­sur­ing health experts at the CDC to endorse the use of border hotels to hold migrant chil­dren before deport­ing them, a prac­tice halted under court order in Septem­ber. Career CDC offi­cials declined to sign off on a declar­a­tion that claimed that the use of hotels to detain migrant chil­dren is the best way to protect them from the spread of Covid-19.
  • As part of an ongo­ing lawsuit involving immig­rants detained at the Mesa Verde center in Cali­for­nia, plaintiffs filed docu­ments indic­at­ing that ICE and GEO, the private prison company that runs the facil­ity, “misled the court about their prac­tices, and acted in a manner which ampli­fied the risk of COVID trans­mis­sion”.
  • In Novem­ber court filings, it was revealed that Cali­for­nia ICE offi­cials have continu­ously misrep­res­en­ted facts relev­ant to their hand­ling of the pandemic. In one example, on May 27, San Fran­cisco Assist­ant Field Office Director Alex­an­der Pham prom­ised that all new detain­ees arriv­ing from another facil­ity with repor­ted coronavirus cases would be placed in isol­a­tion for two weeks before being released to the general popu­la­tion. However, later court docu­ments show that isol­a­tion has been “limited mainly to those arres­ted off the street or return­ing from being hospit­al­ized.”
  • On Decem­ber 9, members of both cham­bers of Congress intro­duced legis­la­tion to require immig­ra­tion deten­tion facil­it­ies to track and publicly report data about COVID-19 cases. The Covid-19 in Immig­ra­tion Deten­tion Data Trans­par­ency Act would force facil­it­ies to collect and submit data to the CDC on a weekly basis, provid­ing numbers that would then be published publicly through the CDC.
  • In a report released on Janu­ary 12, research­ers found that immig­rants in ICE custody were denied access to even “the most basic Covid-19 preven­tion meas­ures, such as soap for hand-wash­ing, and were retali­ated against for rais­ing safety concerns” while the pandemic spread through numer­ous deten­tion facil­it­ies through­out 2020. The report concludes that ICE created “unac­cept­able health risks and viol­ated consti­tu­tional and human rights during the pandemic,” which is ongo­ing.
  • On March 14, immig­ra­tion advoc­ates repor­ted that Immig­ra­tions and Custom Enforce­ment has been releas­ing migrants who test posit­ive for Covid-19 without coordin­at­ing a plan for where they should go to receive medical care. Advoc­ates agree that Covid-posit­ive patients held in ICE deten­tion should be released to be treated but that ICE needs to notify them of the release, so they can coordin­ate with health offi­cials and nonprofits.
  • On March 31, the Biden admin­is­tra­tion announced that it will not renew a ban that the Trump admin­is­tra­tion imposed on H-1B and other work visas in response to the pandemic. Even without the ban, it could be diffi­cult for migrant work­ers to enter the U.S. because of contin­ued Covid-related travel restric­tions from vari­ous coun­tries.
  • On April 9, the Depart­ment of State announced that it will resume processing visas for tempor­ary work­ers after Biden allowed Trump-era visa restric­tions to expire. ICE will also not be conduct­ing enforce­ment at vaccin­a­tion centers after FEMA announced that immig­ra­tion status would not impede anyone’s abil­ity to be vaccin­ated.
  • On April 25, an invest­ig­a­tion into ICE’s hand­ling of the pandemic revealed that people held in ICE deten­tion centers had little health protec­tions against Covid-19, outbreaks in ICE deten­tion centers spread to surround­ing communit­ies, ICE provided incon­sist­ent data about Covid-19 in their facil­it­ies, which made it diffi­cult for health offi­cials to track community spread, and ICE could be releas­ing more people from their centers to curb the spread of Covid-19.
  • On June 9, 40 House Demo­crats urged ICE and the Depart­ment of Home­land Secur­ity to not re-detain immig­rants previ­ously released due to the Covid-19 pandemic. They also called for a review of vaccin­a­tion strategies, release from custody proto­cols, and safety meas­ures to ensure the health of immig­rant detain­ees. The next day, 10 Senate Demo­crats called on ICE and DHS to issue guid­ance against re-detain­ing indi­vidu­als previ­ously released due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • On June 12, women detained at the South Louisi­ana ICE Processing Center in Basile, Louisi­ana were placed on a commu­nic­a­tions lock­down for protest­ing the hand­ling of a possible tuber­cu­losis case, the lack of prompt medical treat­ment, and the poor commu­nic­a­tion about their immig­ra­tion cases. 
  • By July, the New York Times repor­ted that more than 7,500 new Covid-19 cases have been repor­ted in ICE facil­it­ies since April 2021, account­ing for more than 40 percent of all Covid-19 cases repor­ted in ICE facil­it­ies since the pandemic began.
  • On July 16, a federal judge in Hous­ton ruled that DACA is unlaw­ful and halted accept­ing any new enroll­ment applic­a­tions.
  • On Novem­ber 1, the House Judi­ciary Commit­tee passed a version of a recon­cili­ation bill that would allow employ­ment-based immig­rants to be eligible for perman­ent resid­ency years earlier than previ­ously allowed. The provi­sion would allow for those in the back­log of applic­a­tions to be prior­it­ized if they are deemed “highly-skilled” and have already applied for an adjust­ment of status.

Vaccin­a­tion

Bren­nan Center Recom­mend­a­tion: Indi­vidu­als in immig­ra­tion deten­tion facil­it­ies should be prior­it­ized for Covid-19 vaccin­a­tions, along with all other people in congreg­ate living facil­it­ies.

  • On Decem­ber 20, Surgeon General Jerome Adams prom­ised that immig­ra­tion status should not act as a barrier to receiv­ing the Covid-19 vaccine, and that “medical inform­a­tion gather during the course of admin­is­ter­ing a COVID-19 vaccine 'will not be used in any way shape or form’” to hurt people legally.
  • In collab­or­a­tion with the the National Academies of Sciences, Engin­eer­ing, and Medi­cine (NASEM), the CDC developed a frame­work to most effect­ively alloc­ate vaccines for Covid-19. Under this frame­work, immig­rant detain­ees (along with other vulner­able groups, partic­u­larly those under govern­ment care) should be prior­it­ized for vaccine distri­bu­tion. However, this prior­ity status has not been honored in the actual rollout of vaccin­a­tions. Accord­ing to a study published on Janu­ary 14, only one state — Louisi­ana — expli­citly mentions immig­ra­tion deten­tion centers in its vaccin­a­tion prior­ity plan.
  • In Janu­ary, ICE offi­cials announced that there was no “direct timeline” in place for vaccin­at­ing immig­rants in its facil­it­ies, despite raging Covid-19 outbreaks in many ICE deten­tion centers and the agency’s prior­it­iz­a­tion of employee vaccin­a­tions.
  • As of Janu­ary 29, immig­ra­tion advoc­ates feared that ICE was not includ­ing people detained in their immig­ra­tion centers in their vaccin­a­tion plans. Advoc­ates say miscom­mu­nic­a­tion between the state govern­ment and ICE as well as the absence of a clear distri­bu­tion plan for detained immig­rants has led to the lack of vaccin­a­tion efforts.
  • On Febru­ary 24, an invest­ig­a­tion revealed that ICE had misrep­res­en­ted the steps it had taken to vaccin­ate detained immig­rants, after dozens of health depart­ments contra­dicted ICE claims about “ongo­ing dialogues” regard­ing vaccin­a­tion plans.
  • On March 12, immig­ra­tion lawyers repor­ted that Immig­ra­tions and Custom Enforce­ment does not have a plan to system­at­ic­ally distrib­ute the Covid-19 vaccine to people detained in their facil­it­ies. The Centers for Disease Control and Preven­tion has encour­aged vaccin­a­tion in pris­ons and deten­tion centers because of the poten­tial for the virus to spread in these high-dens­ity loca­tions; while the Bureau of Pris­ons has a program to vaccin­ate incar­cer­ated people, ICE is rely­ing on state and local health depart­ments to vaccin­ate people in their facil­it­ies.
  • On March 23, 9 people detained at an ICE facil­ity in Batavia were among the first immig­rants in an ICE deten­tion center to receive their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. ICE has argued that distrib­ut­ing the Covid-19 vaccine among the people held at their facil­it­ies is not their respons­ib­il­ity.
  • As of April 22, 144 people detained at two ICE deten­tion centers in South Flor­ida, Broward Trans­itional Center and the Glades County Deten­tion Center, had turned down the Covid-19 vaccine. 35% of those offered the vaccine accep­ted it when offered. 
  • On May 3, an ICE facil­ity in Hous­ton repor­ted that it had begun vaccin­at­ing migrants at the deten­tion center against Covid-19. The program is the first vaccin­a­tion effort in deten­tion facil­it­ies in Texas.
  • On June 3, City Limits repor­ted ICE will not say how many immig­rants have been vaccin­ated at New York’s largest deten­tion facil­ity. There is no publicly avail­able tracker of ICE vaccin­a­tion efforts.
  • Accord­ing to data obtained by CBS News, just over 1,300 immig­rants detained by ICE have received two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine. As of the week of June 28, ICE was hold­ing more than 27,000 immig­rants.
  • As of July 13, the Depart­ment of Home­land Secur­ity has begun admin­is­ter­ing the John­son & John­son vaccine to detained immig­rants. DHS received an initial alloc­a­tion of 10,000, and the vaccines will be replen­ished on a rolling basis.
  • On August 3, the Biden Admin­is­tra­tion announced that it will offer vaccines to migrants in US custody along the Mexico border.
  • On Octo­ber 1st, ICE’s policy update requir­ing those apply­ing for perman­ent resid­ency to be completely vaccin­ated against Covid-19 took effect. Waivers are avail­able for people under 12 or who cannot get the vaccine due to avail­ab­il­ity and/or medical exemp­tions. The Covid-19 vaccine joins the list of already required vaccin­a­tions such as those against polio, measles, mumps, and hepat­itis.
  • On Decem­ber 2, CBS News published govern­ment data show­ing that only a small percent­age of 1.6 million migrants processed by ICE this year have received Covid-19 vaccin­a­tions while in custody. Half of those 90,000 migrants who received a shot were unac­com­pan­ied chil­dren.
  • Since Biden took office in Janu­ary 2021, the popu­la­tion of immig­rants in deten­tion has grown about 45 percent. As of Janu­ary 2022, the admin­is­tra­tion is not requir­ing anyone in ICE facil­it­ies to get vaccin­ated and contin­ues to fight a court order requir­ing the release of people with high risk of complic­a­tions from Covid-19.