Chaos reigns at ICE detention centers amid fear that coronavirus is ‘spreading like wildfire’

March 26, 2020
Business Insider

As the coronavirus infection rate explodes in the U.S., immigration advocates, lawyers and detainees paint a picture of "chaos" and a situation spiraling rapidly out of control in ICE detention centers, threatening the lives of more than 37,000 detainees in immigration jails across the country.

On Tuesday, ICE announced that an immigrant held at the Bergen County Jail in Hackensack, NJ became the agency's first detainee to test positive for COVID-19, and stated that it is "suspending intake at the facility."

Even though there is only one confirmed case of COVID-19 among detainees, advocates say the disease is likely "spreading like wildfire" in multiple locations, forcing ICE personnel to stay at home while a lack of testing, ineffective quarantines, crowding and denial of basic hygienic needs, all put detainees at heightened risk.

The crisis is manifesting in numerous ways, from quarantining whole dormitories, to guards firing tear gas and rubber bullets at protesting detainees.

In the South Texas Detention Center in Pearsall, Texas, operated by private prison firm Geo Group, "people are being teargassed reportedly because they were refusing to go back into their dorms to be locked up alongside people who were experiencing symptoms," Bethany Carson, immigration policy researcher at Grassroots Leadership, told Insider.