Taylor, TX — In a video obtained by Grassroots Leadership, a woman recently released from T. Don Hutto detention center after community and congressional pressure reports there are six active COVID-19 cases at the immigration jail located in Taylor, Texas. Those active cases are not being reported in the statistics provided by ICE on its website where only one active case is confirmed. Although this case was just posted by ICE Wednesday, she reports that there have been active cases inside the detention center since shortly after the pandemic began.
Despite the active COVID19 cases at T. Don Hutto, ICE is still refusing to release many medically vulnerable people still detained despite an order from a federal judge directing ICE to consider the release of all detained immigrants that have a high risk of complications from COVID-19 infections.
Community advocates are asking local city officials, including Taylor Mayor Rydell and Williamson County Health Official Dr. Lori Palazzo, to intervene and ensure all employees and women detained are immediately tested and released, citing a long history of medical neglect and abuse that plagues the notorious detention center.
Since the start of the pandemic, multiple health professionals have described jails and detention centers as ‘perfect incubators’ for viruses to spread. Poor nutrition, medical care, lack of social distancing practices, and lack of cleaning supplies are just some of the factors that make detention a deadly place to be during a pandemic. COVID-19 deaths have already been reported in other detention centers and jails across the country; if no measures are taken to ensure the safety of the women inside T. Don Hutto, more immigrants will die locked away before having the chance to appear before their immigration court hearings and be reunited with their loved ones.
In March, Dr. Allen Keller, Associate Professor of Medicine at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine and founder of the Bellevue Program for Survivors of Torture, sent a letter to Williamson County Health Authority Lori Palazzo calling for the Williamson County Health District to intervene for the immediate release of hundreds of women seeking asylum who are currently detained at the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas. He has yet to receive a response.
Last month, a San Antonio news outlet reported at the time that all 10 positive COVID-19 cases in Frio County could be traced back to the South Texas Processing Center in Pearsall, Texas; community advocates suspect that a similar situation may have already been happening for weeks in Taylor, with COVID-19 cases being traced back to T. Don Hutto due to ICE and CoreCivic’s lack of transparency.
Bethany Carson, policy researcher and immigration organizer at Grassroots Leadership: “ICE is hiding COVID19 cases from the public, and we want to know why. Their silence is placing communities in Taylor at risk, and we don’t know if there is testing being done of women detained and employees. Detention is deadly, even more so during a pandemic. ICE needs to immediately release all of the people detained to keep them and everyone in the community safe.”
Woman released from T. Don Hutto (for fear of retaliation from ICE, her name is not shown): “I need you to please help [the women detained at T. Don Hutto]. I strongly ask that you send someone there to investigate very, very thoroughly because there’s something very, very grave happening in there. There are six women infected now, and I am afraid for the women inside.”
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Maria Reza, firstname.lastname@example.org