Risk Behind Bars Coronavirus And Immigration Detention

When news broke last week that the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review ordered immigration courts to remove posters with information about COVID-19, it raised a huge red flag for those of us working with asylum seekers. The poster in question, placed by a union, displayed important public health advice about not touching one’s eyes, about cleaning and disinfection, about avoiding contact with sick people.

Though the reason for the removal order was mundanely bureaucratic (no flyers are allowed there, period), the initial response of the agency to the urgency of the unfolding crisis was incredibly worrisome. We are in the middle of a coronavirus pandemic for which we don’t seem to be ready. We are all at risk in varying degrees.

But consider those in immigration detention: populations numbering in the thousands, living together in confined settings, completely unable to “self-quarantine” or to exercise the “social distancing” advised by health authorities.

And consider, at the same time, the “contagiousness” of this novel coronavirus: its R0 (the number of people who can get infected from a single infected person) is twice that of the flu. It is plain to see that the migrants held in detention awaiting disposition of their immigration requests face extremely high risks for a worsening COVID-19 outbreak.

And yet, we don’t really know what is being done to protect them. Worse, we know the precedents are worrisome. In recent years in immigration detention facilities, there have been disease outbreaks (including mumps and chickenpox); overcrowding; and a litany of media and human rights reports documenting poor hygiene measures, terrible conditions, and poor access to resources and medical care.

Appallingly, there is no mechanism for routine monitoring of the medical conditions in these facilities, and there is an alarming recent history of neglecting detainees’ health.

This does not inspire much confidence in the government’s ability to prevent or manage a possible COVID-19 outbreak in the immigration detention system, despite statements from ICE that: “The health, welfare and safety of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees is one of the agency’s highest priorities.”

By Ranit Mishori for thehill.com
Read Full Article HERE

Share this post