The number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 while in unnecessary federal immigration detention continues to skyrocket.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reported 900 confirmed cases last week. Officials now report 1,581 confirmed cases as of Jan. 11. In a shock to absolutely no one, sites that have experienced past outbreaks are once again flaring up. One of these facilities, California’s Otay Mesa Detention Center, is where 57-year-old Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia had been detained. He was the first immigrant to die of the virus while in ICE custody.
Per ICE data, Otay Mesa is reporting 79 confirmed cases as of Jan. 11. The facility, operated by private prison profiteer CoreCivic, has reported 744 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic. In fact, two of the facilities currently with the worst numbers are also CoreCivic operated facilities, both in Arizona.
Eloy Federal Contract Facility is reporting 92 confirmed cases, and has reported 1,195 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic. Meanwhile, La Palma Correctional Facility (LPCC) is reporting 93 confirmed cases, and has reported 2,383 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic. It was the worst-hit immigration detention facility in the nation.
That was a direct result of ICE’s negligence. Recall the Department of Homeland Security inspector general report last year revealing that when immigrants detained at LPCC staged a peaceful protest over lack of safety measures including sufficient personal protective equipment, facility officers instead pepper-sprayed them. ”A letter signed by 182 LPCC detainees indicates the facility used pepper spray, pepper balls, and chemical agents, and punished protesting detainees with lengthy stays in segregation. We confirmed LPCC used chemical agents to end the protests,” the March 2021 report said.
More than 22,100 people are in ICE custody as of Jan. 10, slightly down from more than 22,500 the week prior. But as NPR reported Jan. 2, federal immigration officials have refused to state exactly how many of them have been vaccinated against COVID-19. What officials have said is that only a tiny fraction of them, roughly 500, have been boosted.
In a letter last month, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) urged the Biden administration to implement a plan now. It’s only more urgent since omicron’s arrival.