WASHINGTON, D.C. – Earlier this week, the country was shocked by a whistleblower’s report of a high rate of hysterectomies, some without informed consent, in a Georgia detention facility. The whistleblower also complained about the facility’s lack of testing and failure to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 — complaints that are not unique to the Georgia facility which, like so many others, is run by private contractors.
Today, Accountable.US released a new report that outlines the most serious failures of ICE and its private detention center operators to protect the men, women, and children in its care, as well as their employees, amid the pandemic.
“After years of the Trump administration’s heinous and abusive policies that include the separation of migrant children from their families, the pandemic has shined a light on some of the horrors that have taken place within the walls of ICE’s private detention centers,” said Lizzy Price, spokesperson for Accountable.US.
“ICE and its private detention centers have proven that they are incapable of keeping detainees and employees safe from coronavirus or otherwise. ICE must immediately take steps to comply with judicial orders to release children and other vulnerable populations from detention, provide more transparency and phase out secretive, privately-run facilities.”
The report outlines the failures of detention center leadership to heed pleas from detainees and staff, warnings from health officials and judges across the country, and horrifying examples of the conditions detainees have been forced into, resulting in over 5,600 cases in detainees, 1,000 cases in employees, and a growing number of deaths.
From the report:
- Otay Mesa Detention Center, in San Diego, which is run by CoreCivic and was the first to report a COVID-related death in ICE custody. A month before the death, Otay Mesa’s warden prohibited a staff member from wearing a mask or gloves, saying “we don’t want to scare the inmates and detainees.”
- In Mesa Verde, in California, half of all detainees tested positive for COVID and a judge was forced to order mass testing for detainees and staff after emails showed ICE and its contractors deliberately limited testing. The judge found “there’s no question that this outbreak could have been avoided.”
- At CoreCivic’s Eloy facility in Arizona, 250 detainees were diagnosed with COVID as more than half of the detention center’s employees fell ill and a senior officer died. At least one staffer quit, telling CoreCivic the lack of PPE and other mitigation efforts led to an unsafe environment.
- In Virginia, ICA-Farmville confirmed 97% of its detainees positive for COVID after it allowed dozens of detainee transfers into its facility in June. In early July, an elderly Farmville detainee died of COVID while waiting for his deportation flight. And in early September, we learned the transfers took place because the Department of Homeland Security needed an excuse to use charter flights to move personnel to respond to protest activity in Washington, DC.
- Despite a judge’s order to release children in June, children and their families remain in ICE family detention centers, including at Karnes County Family Residential Center in Texas where 79 detainees have already tested positive for COVID.
- At Richwood Correctional Center in Louisiana, two guards were initially prohibited from wearing masks by their employer, private contractor LaSalle Corrections – both were later diagnosed with and died of COVID.