Government Transparency

DHS, ICE Sued For Withholding

Documents On COVID-19 Precautions

By Steve Rensberry 
RP News

EDWARDSVILLE - (RP News) - 11/9/2020 - Documents withheld by the Department of Homeland Security and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement involving the COVID-19 pandemic are the subject of a lawsuit filed on Nov. 6 by the American Civil Liberties Union.

According to a news release about the filing, ICE has reported 490 active cases of COVID-19 among those currently being detained. Critics suggest the number is much higher, however, given limited testing.

“We know, from discovery in more than 50 suits the ACLU has filed against ICE around the country, that the agency has fundamentally refused the basic precautions to keep people safe from COVID,” ACLU-DC Senior Counsel Arthur Spitzer said. “ICE claims it is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the medical needs of detained people, and yet they’re still getting sick, and some are dying. The American people deserve to know what horrors people are being subjected to on our soil.”

Requested records include the following:

  • The transfer or deportation of detained people who have tested positive for COVID-19 or exhibited symptoms.

  • Any documentation from the start of the Trump administration and onward related to planning for a possible infectious disease outbreak.

  • Models or predictions related to infection and mortality rates of detained people, ICE employees and contractors, and employees of third-party contractors.

  • Any suspected or confirmed exposures, infections, and deaths of people living or working in immigration detention facilities.

  • The risk of spreading COVID-19 to surrounding communities via staff, third-party contractors, visitors, detained people, and transfers.

  • Access to hygiene products and personal protective equipment, and the possibility of social distancing.

  • The testing of detained people, ICE employees and contractors, and employees of third-party contractors at ICE facilities, and testing, treatment, and care of detained people.

  • Directives, policies, protocols, and trainings related to COVID-19 in immigrant detention.

  • Congressional or state-based inquiries into coronavirus-related issues.

The notice said public health experts had been sounding the alarm for months that such centers could become COVID-19 hotspots, and that FY 2020 (ending Sept. 30) was one of the deadliest for ICE detention in 15 years. “This year has also seen numerous reports about the lack of even basic COVID precautions taken by ICE, as well as evidence that ICE has attempted to silence detainees who tried to speak out for better care,” the release stated.

“In a year with so many disasters in the headlines, the escalating humanitarian crisis at ICE detention centers has not received the kind of alarm it deserves,” said Eunice Cho, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “The abuse, neglect, and degradation our clients regularly face in ICE custody have only worsened since the pandemic began: This year alone, we've seen allegations of sexual abuse, increased use of force, rampant use of solitary confinement, attempts by ICE to minimize its role in the deaths of detained people, and hunger strikes to protest the horrendous conditions. The decisions and policies that ICE uses to guide it during this pandemic are a matter of life or death for tens of thousands of detained people and the staff who work at these facilities. It is simply unacceptable that this agency thinks it can act with so little transparency and accountability.”