Immigration and Customs Enforcement has overseen a COVID-19 disaster within the walls of its prisons nationally, but has been downright misleading about the actual number of cases. Legislation introduced by Democratic leaders including Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Joaquin Castro seeks to change that.
The COVID-19 in Immigration Detention Data Transparency Act would force not just ICE, but also Customs and Border Protection, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, and its contracted facilities “to collect and submit COVID-19 data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on a weekly basis and regularly publish this data on their websites.”
”Currently, available information about the number of COVID-19 cases affecting individuals in immigration detention is inadequate for the purpose of stopping the spread of the virus and protecting detainees, staff, and nearby communities,” a statement from Warren’s office said. “Federal reporting standards are necessary to protect against the virus and mitigate outbreaks.”
We know federal immigration agencies like ICE are lying to us about the numbers. During testimony this past July, private prison executives told federal legislators that 900 of their employees so far had tested positive for COVID-19, flying in the face of the only 45 detention workers ICE had reported as of June 18. As we’ve previously noted, this is because ICE is only counting its own employees in its tally, and not contracted workers.
ICE’s refusal to release detainees amid the pandemic only added to the national crisis. “Across the United States, the COVID-19 caseload surged over the summer of 2020. ICE exacerbated the pandemic,” Detention Watch Network said in a report. “Between May and August, our analyses reveal that ICE detention facilities were responsible for over 245,000 COVID-19 cases throughout the country.”
Of course, ICE could have avoided that by just letting people shelter in their homes and communities, but it refused to. That’s still the right thing to do as the virus continues to bear down on the nation. But at the same time, any bill that holds agencies as out of control as ICE and CBP accountable is also needed and necessary.
“We are facing a crisis unlike anything in our lifetimes—and it is hitting vulnerable members of our communities the hardest, including those in detention facilities,” Warren said. “Many detained people are at the mercy of the facilities in which they’re held. That is why we need to mandate these reporting standards.” Click here for more information and to see the full list of cosponsors and supporters.