As COVID-19 continues its rampage across the United States, infecting over 17 million and killing over 300,000 Americans, according to The New York Times, more and more outbreaks are being linked to ICE detention centers.
For reference, ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, has more than 200 jails and detention centers across the United States. These facilities are used to detain immigrants, who have not been found guilty of any egregious crimes, as they await a determination of their immigration status or potential deportation.
Immigration detention is one of the most inhumane practices our country still engages in. According to a research report by the American Civil Liberties Union, 39 adults have died in ICE custody or immediately after being released since 2017.
Medical experts have determined that these deaths are directly linked to subpar conditions within the detention centers. Furthermore, access to basic medical and hygienic supplies is often restricted.
COVID-19 has simply exacerbated these pre-existing issues and unearthed the deep flaws within our immigration system. According to The Journal of the American Medical Association, COVID-19 infection rates in detention facilities are 13 times greater than the United States average. A combination of a lack of government oversight, access to legal counsel and protective safety measures have all contributed to this phenomenon.
ICE is regarded as one of the least transparent and accountable governmental organizations, evidenced by their unwillingness to release detainee data under the guise of national security concerns. During the pandemic, ICE has imposed extremely strict regulations that have made it difficult to monitor what has been occurring.
ICE has banned tours by Congressional representatives, established increased hindrances to lawyer access, and suspended all social and family visits, according to reports by the American Civil Liberties Union.
Another big issue is the privatization of detention centers. To keep up with the increased immigration detention population, a result of nativist public policy, ICE has been cutting contracts with for-profit entities to detain these individuals.
Many of these contracts include guaranteed minimums which require a minimum number of detainees at any given time, thereby incentivizing ICE to detain more individuals.
Private corporations are only driven by a single metric and motive: profit. This poses a serious issue. Instead of prioritizing the health and safety of non-criminal detainees, these companies are cutting down on resources and other basic necessities.
These budget cuts have led to poor medical, dental, and mental health care. According to a report by the House Committee on Homeland Security, “ICE does not do enough to ensure that its own standards of confinement are met.”
This report detailed an instance of an ICE detainee undergoing anaphylactic shock, a life-threatening allergic reaction, four times before he was allowed to get a blood test that determined he had a peanut allergy. This is not an isolated incident.
Recently, there have been many allegations of several women detainees saying that they were forced to get hysterectomies, a gynecological treatment that prevents a woman from getting pregnant and having more children.
This is simply unacceptable.
However, there is hope for change with President-Elect Joe Biden set to take office on Jan. 20.
Biden, on his website, has outlined a series of steps he plans to take within the first 100 days to reform our broken immigration system. He has pledged to end prolonged detention and reinvest in a case management program, reverse family separation policies at our Southern border and protect Dreamers.