As confirmed cases of COVID-19 inside Arizona ICE detention centers continue to grow, ICE refuses to release people from their facilities. Public health experts have been very vocal about the need for decarceration – in prisons, jails, and ICE facilities, people cannot follow CDC guidelines. There is no opportunity to stay 6 feet apart. Facilities are often inadequate and dirty. Health care is abysmal.
Rather than save lives and release people from these facilities, ICE has resorted to grouping all vulnerable and sick individuals together – in direct contradiction of public health expert guidance.
ICE's failure to decrease the number of people in their facilities has created a crisis akin to a tinderbox, ready to explode. ICE detainees share common spaces and medical facilities with hundreds of others. They are forced to share necessities like showers, telephones, toilets, and sinks with dozens of others. They are in the constant presence of officers and staff who continually rotate in and out of the facility, each time risking transmission of the virus to those inside the facility and their community. Pinal County, where two of Arizona’s largest ICE detention centers are located, currently has over 600 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and has lost 19 of its residents to the virus. This is alarming, especially as Arizona experiences massive spikes in COVID-19 cases.
If ICE continues its negligent care, immigration detention will become a death sentence for many. Such an outcome is entirely preventable. Given that infectious disease experts have stated that no conditions of confinement in carceral settings can properly mitigate the serious risk posed by COVID-19, the only way to prevent deaths and suffering is for ICE to free all immigrant detainees.
In April, the ACLU of Arizona, alongside the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project (FIRP), Perkins Coie, and the ACLU National Prison Project, filed a habeas petition on behalf of eight ICE detainees with pre-existing conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to contracting the virus. ICE has released seven of these individuals. The remaining individual was denied release, with a judge stating that ICE could implement measures within La Palma Correctional Center that would satisfy the constitutional responsibility that ICE has for those in its care.
This was a disappointing ruling. Just a few months ago, the ACLU published a report that detailed how people locked up in immigration detention facilities have feared for their lives. The conditions inside these facilities are inhumane, with reports of inadequate medical care and abuse and retaliation against those who dared speak up against abuse. But the fight is not over. The ACLU of Arizona joined FIRP and Perkins Coie to file another petition on behalf of 13 medically vulnerable detainees and remains vigilant of conditions inside for the remaining individual still detained at La Palma. Together, we will continue to demand that ICE implement necessary measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, ultimately freeing all from immigrant detention.
People are held in conditions that are inhumane, and access to medical care is paltry — even before the pandemic. ICE’s failed response to COVID-19, demonstrated by the over 800 confirmed positive cases of the virus inside their facilities, is shameful. Given the unprecedented crisis, ICE, with its history of mismanaging infectious diseases and abusive system, cannot be entrusted with the thousands of lives it currently holds captive. Call ICE now and urge them to release them all.