From the beginning of the pandemic, ICE has been incredibly inadequate both when it comes to testing the thousands of people in detention, and in providing treatment. Following an ACLU lawsuit in April, a small group of medically vulnerable people held by ICE were released. But thousands more remain held in shelters that were inadequate even before COVID-19 appeared. Detainees at these facilities don’t have anything like their own rooms. They sleep tightly backed together in bunk beds and share common bathrooms and eating areas.
As the Times reports, Judge Gee’s order explicitly criticizes ICE over how shelters are not following guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The shelters have not made enough space for those being held to practice social distancing, or halted practices that put large numbers of detainees together. Neither the detainees nor staff at the facilities are consistently wearing masks despite CDC recommendations.
And most tellingly, children and others who have tested positive for the virus have not been removed to medical facilities. At just one facility in Kansas City, at least 11 children and family members have tested positive. At another facility in Texas, workers have tested positive.
“The family residential centers are on fire and there is no more time for half measures,” wrote Judge Gee.
That overcrowded prison facilities have been allowed to turn into cesspools of disease so concentrated that it seems almost impossible for anyone there not to catch COVID-19, is both a disgrace and a threat to the health of everyone—not just the prisoners inside. The idea that the same conditions are being generated at ICE holding facilities for families is horrific. In fact, since the facilities are horrific all on their own, it’s horrific squared. According to NPR, an independent monitor who inspected the ICE facilities was especially critical of the threat posed by the Texas facility, which is located in high-case-count county in a state where the epidemic appears to be out of control.