ACLU Report Shines Spotlight on Abuses Against Immigrants in Detention During Pandemic

ICE’s Obfuscation and Mismanagement Led to Global COVID-19 Spread and Immense Suffering

May 11, 2021 11:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union released a report today summarizing client stories and key facts uncovered from its 40+ lawsuits against Immigration and Customs Enforcement since March of 2020: “The Survivors: Stories of People Released from ICE Detention During the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

The report outlines ICE’s failure to protect people in detention as well as demonstrable lies and misrepresentations in several of our lawsuits, including in sworn declarations to the court. It also makes recommendations to the administration and highlights the stories of 19 people who were detained during the pandemic and released as a result of litigation. Recommendations include a commitment from the government not to re-detain people who were released from detention as a result of COVID-19, and to ensure safety and rapid vaccination for those who remain in detention.

“The horrors and abuses that people routinely experience in ICE detention were dramatically exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Eunice Cho, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “The one silver lining was that, over the course of a few months, ICE went from detaining more than 50,000 people each day — a record high — to detaining a fraction of that number. People were released to their families and communities, where they could live safely with less fear of the virus, begin healing from traumatic conditions of detention, and begin reintegrating their lives. This underscores a key point: There was no need to detain them in the first place. The Biden administration must shut down detention facilities and commit to letting the people who have been released remain free.”

The report reads: “ICE’s mismanagement of COVID-19 also contributed to widespread outbreaks in the communities surrounding detention facilities — perhaps as high as 5.5 percent of all U.S. cases, according to one estimate. ICE’s role as an active vector for the spread of COVID-19 was not limited to the U.S.: ICE deported thousands of people from detention without first testing them for COVID-19. At least 11 countries later confirmed that deportees arrived with COVID-19, sparking fears of even greater global spread.”

One client featured in the report, Humberto, shared his experience of detention: “While detained, Humberto expressed fear that he was being targeted by the guards at Calhoun for speaking to the ACLU. ‘I felt very unsafe. They treat you like a dog. They are racist for no reason,’ Humberto said. He recounts an instance when the guards beat him and knocked out the crown of his tooth for jumping over a chair in the television room. He recalls that a guard put his foot on Humberto’s neck, falsely claiming that he was resisting. It wasn’t until Humberto told the guard he could not breathe that the guard took his foot off Humberto’s neck.”

In April, the ACLU sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, calling for the shut down of 39 ICE detention facilities. The civil liberties organization also launched an action encouraging supporters to message Secretary Mayorkas calling for the shut down of these facilities. Though the average daily population numbers in ICE dropped significantly over the last year, reaching roughly 12,000, in recent weeks it has started to rise again.

The full report is online here.

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