Refugees and migrants in detention are increasingly vulnerable to COVID-19. ICE insists that they are implementing physical distancing, but this is impossible in a detention facility. At the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego, California, which is operated by the privately run corporation CoreCivic, individuals sleep in massive dormitories alongside dozens of others. According to a report by KPBS, there are now 19 immigration detainees and 8 staff members with confirmed cases of COVID-19 and the infections are spreading quickly (4-14-20).
Previously, outbreaks of other contagious diseases have spread aggressively in immigration detention facilities, including in other CoreCivic-operated facilities in California. We are receiving reports from inside that it continues to be “business as usual,” and that individuals are being “herded” even when someone has COVID-19 symptoms. ICE insists they are also providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to detainees and has a plan for providing medical care.
However, observers on the inside of the facility have informed human rights advocates that staff and guards at OMDC are not providing adequate PPE, sanitizing materials, or administering medical assistance when required. For these reasons, people have a better chance to survive outside of detention centers, even if already exposed to COVID-19.
ICE Field Directors have the power to unilaterally release everyone in custody right now, starting with those who are most vulnerable to serious complications and death from COVID-19. The fact that they have not done so yet, putting hundreds of people at risk of illness and risking death, is unconscionable.
To this end, we are asking each of you to modify the attached letter by inserting your name where noted, and send a copy to the Governor and the ICE San Diego Field Office Director as detailed on the letter.