COVID-19 in ICE detention is climbing again, just as advocates have been warning would happen


“There are more than 900 ICE detainees who have tested positive for COVID-19 and are currently being monitored by detention staff, per latest government data,” BuzzFeed News’ Hamed Aleaziz reported Jan. 6. “That number was at 285 earlier this week. Expect numbers to continue to increase.”

”That is a 215.8% jump in the number of positive COVID cases in a mere matter of days,” responded immigrant rights advocacy group Al Otro Lado. “Access to medical care in ICE prison is hard enough as it is, and when you do get it, it’s inept at best. This is a disaster and one that could potentially have fatal consequences.” Since the start of the pandemic, ICE has reported more than 31,000 cases, and at least nine deaths. 

There are more than 22,500 people in ICE custody as of Jan. 3, per government data. But as NPR recently reported, officials have not said exactly how many of them have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

What ICE did tell NPR is that a frighteningly small number of these detainees, 512, have received a booster dose. “It added that ICE’s testing and COVID-19 response are consistent with the latest CDC guidelines,” the report said. “The statement did not detail any policy changes in response to the highly contagious omicron variant.” 

Like American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) National Prison Project Senior Staff Attorney Eunice Cho noted to NPR, ICE’s policy was to fail to issue guidance on vaccine distribution for ten months. “And we’ve heard reports again throughout the pandemic of people begging for soap, for face masks, for the most basic of protections, only to be met with really brutal force and sometimes tear gas, solitary confinement, and retaliation for speaking out about these conditions,” she continued.

Now as omicron is hitting the U.S., it’s like a COVID-19 Groundhog Day. We’ve already seen thousands of cases in ICE detention. Are we now going to repeat this all over again, with possibly additional deaths?

I don’t understand why ICE is not immediately releasing people—especially medically vulnerable ones—from detention,” she tweeted Thursday. “Once omicron hits a facility, the numbers will be staggering. Almost as staggeringly bad as the fact that ICE has given boosters to only 512 of 22K+ detainees.”

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