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ICE, CBP Officials React To COVID-19 Concerns At Detention Facilities

Peter O'Dowd
Cold freezers at a detention facility.

Social visitation is suspended in all U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities according to a statement from officials. The agency did not provide further specifics about measures to prevent or mitigate the impact of COVID-19, but said it is “taking important steps to further safeguard those in our care.”

Some doctors have expressed concern over the potential for coronavirus to spread within immigration detention facilities.

“Oftentime in these situations there is no possibility of doing social distancing,” said Dr. Ranit Mishori, a senior medical advisor for Physicians for Human Rights.

“You are forced to be in a small, unventilated area with other people, and oftentimes in these situations there’s less access to basic hygiene measures, less access to healthcare,” Mishori said.

On Thursday, the American Immigration Lawyers Association sent a letter to ICE urging the agency to put certain measures in place to reduce the risk of an outbreak, including releasing vulnerable populations from custody.

Vulnerable populations include pregnant people, people older than 60 and people with compromised immune systems.

The letter also asked ICE to halt transfers of detainees from one facility to another.

Additionally, officials with U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement that individuals who are apprehended between Ports of Entry with symptoms of illness are referred to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or local health officials for additional screening.

The statement also said all persons in U.S. Border Patrol custody who meet the CDC's COVID-19 travel history and enhanced screening guidelines are being referred to CDC for additional screening. 

"U.S. Border Patrol takes all necessary precautions to ensure that no communicable diseases are spread across populations in custody," the statement said.

The agency also said it has issued guidelines to employees on the use Personal Protective Equipment, which includes guidance regarding wearing masks in the appropriate circumstances and has also issued sanitary guidance to its facilities to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Mallory Falk is a KERA reporter for The Texas Newsroom and can be reached at mfalk@KERA.org and on Twitter at @malloryfalk.

Reynaldo Leaños Jr. can be reached at Reynaldo@TPR.org and on Twitter at @ReynaldoLeanos.

Mallory Falk was WWNO's first Education Reporter. Her four-part series on school closures received an Edward R. Murrow award. Prior to joining WWNO, Mallory worked as Communications Director for the youth leadership non-profit Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools. She fell in love with audio storytelling as a Middlebury College Narrative Journalism Fellow and studied radio production at the Transom Story Workshop.
Reynaldo Leaños Jr. can be reached at reynaldo@tpr.org and on Twitter at @ReynaldoLeanos