For Immediate Release, April 2, 2020

Representative Bennie Thompson of the House Homeland Security Committee Urges ICE to Release Detainees Ahead of COVID-19 Outbreak

Press Contact:
Lorena Quiroz
Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity
(662) 446-2295

On April 1st, 20202, Representative Bennie Thompson, the Chair of the Congressional Committee on Homeland Security called for ICE to release detainees and pursue “alternatives to detention.”

“This is not only for the health of these immigrants, but also for the health of the DHS frontline workforce and the general public. It is clear that ICE detention facilities, including local and privately contracted facilities, are unable to properly follow CDC standards set to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Without action these facilities will inevitably become breeding grounds for the virus...ICE must do its part to protect their workforce, immigrants, and our communities during these troubling times.” Read the Full Statement Here.

This comes as the third inmate death has been confirmed April 2nd, 2020 at Louisiana’s Oakdale Detention Center, where 17 detainees and 18 guards have tested positive for COVID 19 and as the facility ceases testing due to “sustained transmission” and presumed contagion.

Detention facilities are already crowded and unsanitary, which have provoked scabies and mumps outbreaks in regional ICE facilities in the past year.

Detainees at South Louisiana Detention Center report having only 5 bars of soap for the week for a 72 women cell block. “It ran out on the first day.” “There are only 3 day shift only nurses for a jail of 500 people, and a doctor who visits once a month” reported Francisca Morales Diaz. You have to have written permission from a guard to be able to see the nurse, they won’t just let you visit a nurse - you have to go accompanied by a guard. If the guard doesn’t ‘feel’ like you’re sick, that’s it, you won’t make it to see the nurse.” While several cell blocks are in ‘quarantine’ due to risk of infection, they still all use the same cafeteria with no added cleaning precautions between shifts, and detainees report rats eating the food they buy from the commissary and leave at the foot of their beds. “There’s no way to ‘distance'. We sleep in bunk beds on columns with less than a few feet head to toe.”

Deaths in detention have already spiked in recent years due to medical neglect and abuse, reaching 10 deaths already in ICE detention in the first 3 months of 2020. With a mortality rate 10 times greater than the seasonal flu, an outbreak of COVID-19 in immigration detention facilities would be devastating to immigrants, surrounding communities, and facility staff.

ICE has complete discretion to release detainees to attend immigration court from the safety of their homes. This was the standard practice for all of US history until ICE began systematically detaining immigrants for the duration of their trial and denying parole requests in 2018, dropping parole grant rates from over 90% ten years ago to around 1% in 2018 and 2019.

“We’re calling for the release of all ICE detainees and save lives before it’s too late” said Lorena Quiroz, an organizer with Mississippi’s Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity and Working Together Mississippi.

ICE’s Former Acting Director John Sandwag and Attorney General William Barr have also called for the release of federal detainees to their homes.