ACLU Files FOIA Request to Uncover Information About ICE COVID-19 Response

May 22, 2020 10:45 am

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union filed a public records request today under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain documents related to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic under the Trump administration.

Public health experts have been warning for months that immigrant jails would be hotspots for the spread of COVID-19. ICE currently has reported 1,181 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in people in detention, and 116 confirmed cases in staff. Those numbers likely reflect major undercounting: Just 2,368 of the nearly 28,000 detained people have been tested, which means the positive rate for those who have been tested is nearly 50 percent. This month has seen the first two deaths of detained people from COVID-19, as well as three deaths of ICE staff.

“The mass detention of immigrants in this country was a long-term crisis for over a decade, but this pandemic has exposed just how deeply inhumane it really is,” said Eunice Cho, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “ICE has proven again and again that it is unable to protect the health and safety of the people it detains. Conditions in detention have only deteriorated under the Trump administration, and in a global pandemic, they’re especially deadly. The decisions and policies the agency is using to guide it are a matter of life or death for tens of thousands of detained people, staff who work at these facilities, and the communities they return home to. We will fight to ensure these policies and decisions are made public.”

The records requested include communications and documents related to the following:

  • The transfer or deportation of detained people who have tested positive for COVID-19 or exhibited symptoms.
  • Any documentation from the start of the Trump administration and onward related to planning for a possible infectious disease outbreak.
  • Models or predictions related to infection and mortality rates of detained people, ICE employees and contractors, and employees of third-party contractors.
  • Any suspected or confirmed exposures, infections, and deaths of people living or working in immigration detention facilities.
  • The risk of spreading COVID-19 to surrounding communities via staff, third-party contractors, visitors, detained people, and transfers.
  • Access to hygiene products and personal protective equipment, and the possibility of social distancing.
  • The testing of detained people, ICE employees and contractors, and employees of third-party contractors at ICE facilities, and testing, treatment, and care of detained people.
  • Directives, policies, protocols, and trainings related to COVID-19 in immigrant detention.
  • Congressional or state-based inquiries into coronavirus-related issues.

Last month, the ACLU issued a report, “Justice-Free Zones: U.S. Immigration Detention Under the Trump Administration.” The report chronicled the growth of immigrant detention under the Trump administration — much of which has benefited for-profit providers — as well as deteriorating conditions in detention, inabilities to access medical care, and the heightened legal hurdles that prevent people from getting out of detention. Though the research for the report was conducted before COVID-19, it clearly and poignantly shows how dangerous ICE detention was even before this pandemic.

The FOIA request is online, here.

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