Note: this article, featuring our clients Drs. Scott Allen and Josiah Rich and Government Accountability Project, was originally published here.
A Doctor on ICE’s Response to the Pandemic: “You Could Call It COVID-19 Torture”
Instead of releasing people, ICE is holding immigrants in group quarantines the CDC says should only be used as a last resort.
On its website, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides some commonsense guidelines for prisons and detention centers to curb the spread of COVID-19. These facilities, the CDC says, should avoid “cohorting” people who have been in contact with someone infected with the virus—that is, quarantining them together. The reasons are obvious. Doing so can “transmit COVID-19 from those who are infected to those who are uninfected.”
Yet Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which detains immigrants and asylum seekers in facilities across the country, is following a rulebook directly at odds with the CDC’s advice. ICE is relying heavily on cohorting because it refuses to release large numbers of people, despite admitting that it often lacks the ability to separate detainees it knows have been exposed to the new coronavirus.
ICE usually houses detainees in dorms where dozens of people are held together in close quarters. Under ICE’s COVID-19 policy, symptomatic detainees are removed and placed in isolation. When someone tests positive, the rest of the dorm is quarantined together, or “cohorted,” for 14 days. From there, detention center staff monitor to see if anyone else develops symptoms. Meanwhile, the quarantined detainees are in close proximity and touching the same surfaces—often without adequate access to soap, cleaning supplies, masks, and gloves. If another person gets infected, that individual is isolated and the quarantine clock resets. The process, under ICE guidelines, continues until nobody is symptomatic for two weeks.