Wednesday, May 06, 2020

ICE detention centers become vectors for spread of the coronavirus, posing another threat to the rural South

Crowded and unsanitary detention centers for undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers encourage the spread of covid-19; that endangers the larger rural South, as Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials transfer hundreds of detainees to state and local prisons and jails.

"Over the past three years, the Trump administration has drastically expanded the use of rural ICE detention centers, especially in the South," Gaby Del Valle and Jack Herrera report for Politico. "For the administration, remote locations are cheaper to staff and operate than facilities in big cities. The ICE contracts have aided local communities, too, bringing hundreds of jobs and millions in administrative fees and property tax revenue."

For example, some employees at the Adams County Correctional Center, a privately run detention center in Natchez, Mississippi, called the mayor on March 26 and complained that they didn't have adequate personal protective equipment, and said they worried that ICE officials hadn't taken many precautions to ensure that new detainee transfers were uninfected, Del Valle and Herrera report. The workers told the mayor that they worried the detainees would sicken them and cause the virus to spread to the wider community. Adams County has only 15 intensive-care beds; at least 15 detainees and two employees at the center have covid-19.

"The actual numbers are likely much higher [since] ICE only tests small numbers of people with serious symptoms," Del Valle and Herrera report. "As of May 4, ICE had tested only 1,285 of the roughly 30,000 detainees in its custody . . . about half were positive." Nationwide, less than 20 percent of tests have been positive."

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