Coronavirus officially spread among migrant families in custody in the US government. The immigration and customs authorities, or ICE, reported the first cases of coronavirus among migrant families with children detained by the agency on Thursday.
According to applications in the federal district court in Los Angeles, 11 family members in a residential center in Carns County in southern Texas tested positive for the virus.
These 11 infections are the first confirmed cases of coronavirus in the three family detention centers that ICE operates in Texas and Pennsylvania. The agency also reported four cases of coronavirus among family prison employees in Dilly, Texas, on Thursday.
According to the agency’s latest data, more than 2,500 adult immigrants tested positive for coronavirus while in custody at the ICE. More than 800 of them remain in isolation or supervision, and some have been released. So far, the agency has reported that two detainees died from coronavirus complications while in custody.
Coronavirus cases in family detention centers have been reported by an independent observer tasked with monitoring ICE compliance with the Flores Settlement Agreement, which regulates the care of juvenile migrants in US custody. Andrea Sheridan Ordin, an independent observer, said all family members who had a positive test result were “stable, asymptomatic, and still held in medical detention centers.”
ICE spokeswoman Jenny Burke stated that family members with positive results were new arrivals and that they did not make contact with other families at an institution in Carns, where 73 migrants currently reside. As part of an “active effort to empower COVID-19 testing,” ICE offered voluntary coronavirus tests for all families in Carns on June 22, Burke said, adding that more results are expected.
“This proactive testing of new arrivals at Carns yielded the expected results. Thanks to the isolation and screening of families entering the institution, medical staff can provide the necessary assistance to new prisoners, while at the same time preventing potential impacts on those already in custody, ”Burke said. in a statement late thursday.
In addition to reporting new cases, Sheridan Ordin expressed concern about the way personnel at the Carns and Dilly detention centers are implementing measures to contain the virus. She conducted her assessment by talking to senior ICE officials and medical staff, interviewing several detained families, and viewing footage and photographs of the facilities.
“Although the general medical system in institutions seems to be suitable for caring for children in custody, the risk of Covid-19 for minors and their families in custody at ICE continues to grow,” Sheridan Ordin said in a court hearing.
Sheridan Ordin said inspection protocols seem adequate, and that the data suggest that families with chronic illnesses are being released. But she noted that not all employees complied with the policy of wearing face masks and that social distance was not always respected, referring to video recordings and interviews with families.
The rising incidence of coronavirus in Texas communities surrounding facilities in Carns and Dilly has also been a concern for Sheridan Ordin. “The lack of consistent compliance with the recommended camouflage for some employees and the remote requirements in places of general nutrition increase the risk that the virus that has got into the institution may not be properly contained,” she wrote.
The ICE did not immediately resolve the issues raised by the independent observer. The agency has repeatedly stated that it has taken the necessary measures to protect detainees and staff in places of detention.
The ICE is responsible for the long-term detention of civilian immigration for adults and families with minors. Due to the order of Judge Dolly G, who is responsible for litigating the Flores settlement, the ICE, as a rule, should not support families with children in unlicensed detention centers for more than 20 days.
In April, Gee ordered the ICE and the Refugee Relocation Authority, which takes care of unaccompanied migrant children, to seek the speedy release of minors under their care – one of the mandates in the Flores Consent Decree.
Since then, the ICE has released several families, but continues to detain hundreds of families in Carns, Dilly and at the plant in Lisport, PA. The agency recently conducted a parole check for all children in custody, but rejected most of their requests for release. Among other reasons, the ICE said it did not grant parole to most families because parents did not agree to be separated from their children so that minors could be released to sponsors.
Alexandra Cohen, a lawyer for the Center for Education and Legal Services for Immigrants and Refugees, which provides legal services to families at the Carns facility, said she was not surprised by new cases of coronavirus, noting that her group was calling for the release of detainees during the pandemic. But she said she was concerned about the spread of the virus among families and children, many of whom are babies.
“The only real way to make sure that they are not sick in detention is if they are not there, if they have the opportunity of social distance in their homes,” Cohen said.
“ICE has the right, at its discretion, to release all those in custody. This decision to leave people in custody. No one, especially a child, should be detained during a pandemic, ”she continued.
Carns is managed by the private prison corporation GEO Group, one of ICE’s largest contractors. The facility in Dilly, Texas, is run by CoreCivic, another commercial prison company.