Immigrant detainees describe deteriorating conditions as coronavirus spreads on the premises

The detainees agreed to share their experience on the condition that CNN only refers to them by their last names for fear of reprisal.

“There are many people with symptoms of fever, headache and vomiting,” said Sánchez, 27. “When they do the counting, you have to stop and there are a lot of weak people. One man passed out.” That man was taken to the medical unit and then returned to the bedroom shortly after, the detainee recalled.

“The people who prepare our food are also sick and continue to send them to the kitchen to prepare food for the inmates,” said Gonzalez, 33. “I am very scared now.”

Detainees and lawyers who spoke to CNN described the lack of social distancing, cloth face masks that need to be renewed, and people who collapse due to illness.

Nationwide, immigration detention centers that house more than 23,000 detainees continue to count on the spread of the coronavirus months in the pandemic. On Friday, concerns about the conditions prompted a federal judge to demand the release of the migrant children detained at ICE’s three family detention centers in mid-July.
A recently released government surveillance report highlighted the dramatic increase in cases among detainees in custody since the coronavirus outbreak, starting with one case on March 25 and increasing to 1,312 on May 26.
There are 751 Detainees in ICE custody who tested positive for coronavirus and are currently under isolation or monitoring and 8,858 overall as of Friday, according to the agency’s latest statistics.

Immigration lawyers and advocates repeatedly warned that confined spaces in the facilities put men, women and children at risk of contracting the virus, despite ICE’s efforts to reduce its detained population by releasing those considered most vulnerable. .

“We have a real fear that we may have clients dead at some point,” said Brian Casson, an immigration attorney representing four detainees at the Farmville facility.

Conditions worsen at a Virginia detention center

Lawyers say an agency effort to transfer detainees to maintain social distancing took into account the increase in cases in Farmville.

ICE said in a statement that during the pandemic, “the agency has taken steps to protect detainees in their custody and promote social distancing whenever possible,” adding: “This has resulted in the transfer of detainees from facilities with Larger detention populations to facilities with fewer detainees. Prior to transportation, the agency conducts temperature controls and medically examines detainees for symptoms of COVID-19. “

According to ICE, on June 2, 74 detainees were transferred to the Farmville Detention Center from facilities in Arizona and Florida and were quarantined. They were finally evaluated after three detainees confirmed cases. Of the 74 transferred detainees, 47 tested positive for coronavirus as of June 22. There are 412 detainees in Farmville.

Judge rules that migrant children in government family detention centers must be released due to coronavirus

Detainees say that despite measures to separate those with confirmed cases, there is still a mix, particularly with staff members caring for those who are separated and then engaging with the general population.

González told CNN that detainees also receive temperature checks twice a day, but that requires placing their faces against glass that is not disinfected between evaluations. “They don’t clean it up. Everyone still has to go through the same process,” Gonzalez said. “There is never social distancing. We are always together. Basically, we are sharing everything.”

ICE rejected the claim that detainees had to place their faces against a window for review, saying in a statement: “No medical personnel have ordered detainees to place their faces against a window, nor is there a medical need for them to detainees put their face to face in a window to perform a temperature control. “

The agency also said it is medically examining people who work in the kitchen, what the detainees shared was a concern, and that it provides N95 masks and cloth masks, according to a spokesperson.

The spokesperson added that the Farmville Detention Center plans to begin evaluating the entire detained population early next week.

Detainees anxiously await further evidence, but do not appear to be improving at this time.

“The days go by and things get worse,” Sánchez said.

Lawyers continue to alarm

Months after the pandemic, the coronavirus continues to gain strength, fueling fears among detainees who are confined to facilities that are also dealing with the outbreak.

The Department of Homeland Security inspector general found in a June report that while “almost all facility personnel” in a large number of centers said they were prepared to tackle the virus, they still “expressed concern if the pandemic continued spreading”.

The inspector general also encountered problems related to social distancing, stating in the report that “the facilities reported concerns about their inability to practice social distancing among detainees and to isolate or quarantine people who may be infected with COVID- 19 “.

Delia Salvatierra, an Arizona-based immigration attorney, has tested eight of her clients positive at two separate detention centers in Arizona.

“All of the clients that I’ve had in custody during this time have had Covid. None have escaped,” said Salvatierra.

“I think from the (Department of Homeland Security) point of view, they are doing everything they can to isolate people, but the problem starts much earlier. It starts with mixing people. There is no sure way to keep people in a closed environment, when people come and go, like guards and staff, “he added.

Earlier this month, attorneys representing a group of detainees at an Arizona immigration detention center, where Salvatierra made their clients positive, pointed to a letter they said detailed dangerous conditions in custody as the coronavirus spreads on the premises.

The letter, dated May 18, alleged that no social distancing measures had been implemented at the facilities and that detainees continue to clean areas.

In some cases, fears and despair among those detained by the pandemic have given way to protests. At a detention center in Bristol County, Massachusetts, a fight broke out over a dispute over coronavirus testing.
Advocacy groups say hunger strikes have increased since concerns about Covid-19 arose, as have reports of incidents related to the use of force, such as pepper spray that officers fired at county facilities. from Bristol on May 1.

A similar scenario developed in downtown Farmville this week when detainees protested medical conditions at the facility, according to detainees. ICE said there were no protests, but admitted that there was a “disturbance involving two detainees in a dormitory” that required staff to use pepper spray.

Across the country, lawsuits have been filed to release detainees and establish measures to protect detainees. Meanwhile, thousands of detainees are waiting. The National Immigration Project, CAIR Coalition and Aid Legal Justice Center filed a demand that nine detainees be released from Farmville facilities in April.

“We filed litigation for a group of nine medically vulnerable people who were trying to get out of detention, and unfortunately at the time, the judge did not see things our way and did not grant release,” said Sirine Shebaya, executive director. of the National Immigration Project, added that the case is on appeal.

“The circumstances at Farmville right now are a perfect illustration of the ways that the continuous transfers that ICE has insisted on continuing are contributing to the spread of the coronavirus,” he said.

Of the nine who were involved in the litigation, only two remain at the center.

Geneva Sands and Catherine Shoichet of CNN contributed to this report.