COVID cases reportedly surging in immigrant detention centers

Coronavirus cases are surging in crowded government detention centers, as the number of illegal immigrants being held in the facilities has nearly doubled in the past months, according to a report on Tuesday.

More than 7,500 new coronavirus cases have been reported in the centers between April and last week, the New York Times reported, citing an analysis of Immigration and Customs Enforcement data.

In that same period, the number of people being held in detention rose to more than 26,000 from 14,000.

The rise in COVID-19 cases accounts for more than 40 percent of all cases reported in ICE facilities since the pandemic began, the Times said.

Public health officials told the newspaper that few migrants are vaccinated, making the jammed detention centers ripe for outbreaks of the deadly disease.

ICE detention center in Donna, Texas
A spokesperson for ICE said detainees are tested for COVID-19 and placed in quarantine for 2 weeks upon arriving.
AP/Julio Cortez

Just 20 percent of detainees coming through the facilities have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine while in custody.

The Biden administration rolled back the bulk of former President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, setting off the illegal immigration rush that has overwhelmed government facilities — causing some governors to send National Guard troops to the border to assist the feds.

Dr. Carlos Franco-Paredes, an associate professor at the Colorado University School of Medicine, said there are a number of reasons for the rise in cases, including lax safety precautions, a lack of testing and the transporting of migrants between facilities.

An unidentified migrant is processed at the intake area of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in Donna, Texas.
Only 20% of people being detained have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine while in custody.
AP/Dario Lopez-Mills

During an inspection at a center in Aurora, Colo., Franco-Paredes said he saw staffers not wearing masks properly.

“There is minimal to no accountability regarding their protocols​,” he said. ​

ICE spokeswoman Paige Hughes said detainees are tested for the coronavirus and placed in quarantine for 14 days when they arrive.

“On-site medical professionals are credited with reducing the risk of further spreading the disease by immediately testing, identifying and isolating the exposed detainees to mitigate the spread of infection,” she said.

B​ut public health officials note that detainees are transported to the facilities by​ bus before they are tested, raising the likelihood that they expose others during the trip.

According to the report, ICE officials said the agency left the decision to vaccinate the migrants up to state and local officials. ​

Some of the largest infections have been recorded in states with low vaccination rates, including one in the Adams County Correctional Center in Natchez, Miss.

With the spread of the variants like Delta that are more transmissible, Sharon Dolovich, the director of the Covid Behind Bars Data Project at UCLA, said vaccinations have to become a priority or the infections will increase.

“You have people coming in and out of the facility, into communities where incomplete vaccination allows these variants to flourish, and then you bring them inside the facilities, and that variant will spread,” Dolovich said.

“What you’re describing is the combination of insufficient vaccination plus the evolution of the virus, and that is really scary,” she said.

Detention center in Donna,Texas
Since April, the number of people being held in detention rose to more than 26,000 from 14,000.
AP/Julio Cortez

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