By Samantha Iniguez
With COVID-19 cases rising, the government urges residents to stay home and social distance, but is selfishly putting lives at risk to continue detaining immigrants. The leaders of the U.S. Imigration and Customs Enforcement might think they are doing something essential, but they are in fact risking worsening the spread of the virus.
The Guardian wrote, “On the first day of California’s ‘shelter-in-place’ lockdown, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents raided immigrant communities in Los Angeles.” During this time, residents are looking for guidance and support from their government. Instead of providing comfort, the government continued detaining immigrants, risking the lives of residents, ICE agents and medical staff.
According to The Guardian’s, Surgeon General, Jerome Adams, issued a statement asking that all N95 masks be reserved for medical staff and anyone else in need of protection use other types of protective gear. Despite the statement on March 20, ICE bid for 45,000 N95 protective medical masks to be delivered to all 26 enforcement and removal operations field offices.
The government needs to realize that preserving protective gear for medical staff is a higher priority than tearing apart families. Medical staff are working long hours with COVID-19 positive patients without the proper protection needed and then having to go home risking their families lives, or isolating themselves for their families well-being. A lot of unprotected medical staff have tested positive for COVID-19 and ICE continues to risk more medical staff lives by using the protective gear required only to potentially spread the disease in centers.
Continuing raids keeps unsanitary detention centers filled completely going against the measures being taken to stop the virus. Detention centers in New York and Texas already have multiple confirmed cases.
Andrea Sáenz, attorney-in-charge at the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, told The Intercept, “There are thousands of people in ICE detention who could be released right now and aren’t, and they include a lot of high-risk people who are going to get coronavirus because they’re there and are going to get really sick and die.”
Detainees who tested positive for COVID-19 are placed in solitary confinement and treated, according to an ICE press release, but by the time they are tested multiple people could be infected as well. Unfortunately, kids are also held in detention centers and have a couple confirmed cases. According to tThe New York Ttimes said there are four children who have tested positive for COVID-19 and at least one other child who is in confinement awaiting results.
Health experts have warned ICE and the government since the pandemic began that detention centers were not prepared for an outbreak. Centers lack supplies including soap, running water, hand sanitizer and other sanitary products needed to fight the spread of the virus.
Detention camps have had similar outbreaks in the past. The Guardian wrote, “Five cases of mumps in immigration detention centers in September 2018 ballooned to nearly 900 cases among staff and detainees by August 2019.” Having one confirmed COVID-19 case at a center would spread like wildfire. With multiple confirmed cases already confirmed, it is obvious that detainees should be released to prevent further spreading of the virus.
Dr Josiah Rich, an epidemiologist at Brown University, told the guardian, “People are held in these detention centers for civil immigration violations, not criminal charges, and the government can release them unless they are considered a danger to the community.” Although the government does not have much control over how strictly the public follows the stay- at- home initiative, they do have the power to release detainees that don’t pose a threat and cut the risk that detention centers pose.
The government needs to do its part in slowing down the spread of the virus by at least temporarily ceasing raids and releasing detainees who don’t pose a threat to society in order to help avoid the health system collapse.