NATIONAL NEWS

Trump Administration Urged To Free Migrants As Virus Surges

Mar 25, 2020, 11:25 AM
Odalys K. Fernandez holds a sign reading, "Caution!! Coronavirus risk at Miramar Ice cage", as she ...
Odalys K. Fernandez holds a sign reading, "Caution!! Coronavirus risk at Miramar Ice cage", as she joins protesters outside of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office on March 13, 2020 in Miramar, Florida. As the world reacts to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, Bud Colin, Director of Friends of Miami-Dade Detainees (FOMDD) and member of the Miramar Circle of Protection, issued a statement about the protest that called for ICE to cancel all appointments until April to avoid contagion. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Pressure was mounting on the Trump administration Wednesday to release people from immigration detention facilities where at least one detainee has tested positive for COVID-19 and advocates fear tight quarters and overall conditions could cause rapid spread of the virus.

The U.S. holds around 37,000 people in immigration detention. Detainees and advocates say many are vulnerable because of age and pre-existing medical conditions, and because they are often held in open rooms, beds 3-feet apart, and without adequate supplies of masks or other protections.

“It’s impossible to stay calm,” said Marco Battistotti, an Italian who is among 170 people detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Bristol County jail in Massachusetts. “People are panicking. People are in fear.”

The 54-year-old Battistotti was among about 100 detainees at the county jail near Cape Cod who signed a letter released by a local immigration lawyer detailing conditions inside. They asked to be released to await decisions on their immigration cases.

“I don’t want to die in an ICE jail,” he said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. “Why can’t I fight my case on the outside?”

The agency, which reported the positive test of a 31-year-old man from Mexico held in Bergen County, New Jersey, on Tuesday, has announced steps to protect detained migrants and staff from the virus, but hasn’t said whether it plans to review cases for possible release because of the outbreak. It did not immediately respond to a request to comment on the complaints about conditions from the detainees and their advocates.

The administration has tried to balance its overall hard line on immigration, a signature policy of President Donald Trump, and its response to the outbreak, with ICE announcing previously that it would “temporarily adjust” operations to focus on apprehending people who pose a risk to public safety or are subject to mandatory detention because of a criminal record.

Immigrant advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union, are filing lawsuits in California, Maryland, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, seeking court orders for the immediate release of people in immigration detention, especially those at risk because of their age or medical conditions.

It’s unclear how many detainees overall are at higher risk, but one California suit alone had 13 plaintiffs, all over 55.

A panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Monday, citing the “rapidly escalating public health crisis,” ordered the immediate release of a 37-year-old woman who is fighting deportation to Mexico.

The woman’s lawyer, Max Carter-Oberstone, said the government told him it would not oppose the decision, which the court took on its own initiative in a rare move on behalf of a woman who he says has been threatened with death by members of a Mexican drug cartel.

“It wasn’t something we asked for or were expecting,” Carter-Oberstone said. “The court is clearly reacting to the greater public health crisis that we’re in right now and re-evaluating how it’s going to dispose of its immigration cases in light of that crisis that we’re all experiencing.”

The situation in immigration detention, which include facilities run by local jurisdictions and private contractors, is similar to that facing jails and prisons, with staff also at risk from a virus that already has sickened at least 55,000 people and killed about 800 in the U.S.

One difference is that more than half of ICE detainees have no criminal charges or conviction and are held only for immigration reasons. Under previous administrations, many would likely have been released on bond as they pursued their cases.

ICE has reported one positive test of an employee at a detention facility in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and 18 confirmed cases among staff not involved in detaining migrants. A contractor reported a positive case of a staff member at a facility in Harris County, Texas. The agency says it is screening new detainees and isolating detainees who show symptoms of the coronavirus disease.

Detainees say those measures won’t do much, with people staying in dorm-like bays with no social distancing possible or in smaller rooms that they sometimes have to clean themselves, with insufficient cleaning supplies.

Francisca Morales Diaz, a 45-year-old from Mexico who was released Friday from an ICE detention center in Louisiana, said she and others were issued soap and toilet paper for their own use once a week and they would run out. When they complained, she says they were told there were shortages on the outside as well.

“There isn’t enough medicine. It’s not well-maintained,” Morales told AP. Her fear is that “at any moment, they’re going to come and take me back there.”

Ira Alkalay, a lawyer representing some of the detainees at the jail near Cape Cod, said the detainees are responsible for cleaning their unit, which includes a dining area and bathrooms, but aren’t even given bleach. Some who signed the letter suffer from respiratory ailments such as tuberculosis, emphysema and asthma that put them at higher risk to the virus.

“These are not sanitary conditions at all,” Alkalay said. “If the virus is introduced, many people could get sick all at once. Hospitals in the area can become quickly overwhelmed.”

The office of Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, who has made headlines for offering to send the jail’s ICE detainees to help build Trump’s promised border wall, has stressed there are currently no confirmed or suspected cases of the virus at the facility.

“We suspect these detainees are working with outside political activist groups to use the coronavirus crisis to advance their political agenda,” the sheriff’s spokesman, Jonathan Darling, said this week.

Eunice Cho, an ACLU lawyer, said the confined spaces and limited medical treatment in many immigration jails made them especially vulnerable — and if the virus spreads through one facility, the number of sick people who would require advanced care could overwhelm area hospitals. Many ICE jails are in rural areas with smaller hospitals.

“This is closely related to the public health of our entire community,” Cho said.

________________________________

Marcelo reported from Boston. Merchant reported from Houston.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

National News

Taylor Goodridge...
Tyler Kingkade, NBC News

Utah boarding school ignored teen’s sickness complaints before she died, ex-staff say

A Native American teenager who died while attending a Utah boarding school for at-risk youth had been sick in the weeks beforehand, but staff had been trained to assume students would lie about being ill and did not try to bring her to the hospital until the day she died, former staff members said in interviews. 
1 day ago
Bed Bath And Beyond is in financial trouble...
Paul R. La Monica and Nathaniel Meyersohn, CNN

Bed Bath & Beyond says it can no longer pay its debts

(CNN) — The end could be near for struggling retailer Bed Bath & Beyond, as it warned in a regulatory filing Thursday that it received a notice of default from its lender, JPMorgan Chase. Shares of Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY) plunged more than 20% on the news, to about $2.56 a share. The company […]
1 day ago
The rotation of Earth's core may have paused, scientists in China have suggested. (Adobe Stock via ...
Lianne Kolirin

Earth’s inner core may have stopped turning and could go into reverse, study suggests

The rotation of Earth's inner core may have paused and it could even go into reverse, new research suggests.
1 day ago
A worker rings up a customer at a cash register in a Walmart store on January 24, 2023 in Miami, Fl...
Paul Wiseman, Associated Press

US economy slowed but still grew at 2.9% rate last quarter

The U.S. economy expanded at a 2.9% annual pace from October through December, ending 2022 with momentum despite the pressure of high interest rates and widespread fears of a looming recession.
1 day ago
Chunli Zhao appears for his arraignment at San Mateo Superior court in Redwood City, Calif., on Wed...
Olga R. Rodriguez and Jocelyn Gecker, Associated Press

Suspect in Half Moon Bay farm killings faces 7 murder counts

A farmworker accused of killing seven people in shootings at two Northern California mushroom farms has been charged with seven counts of murder.
1 day ago
In an aerial view, San Francisco police officers and F.B.I. agents gather in front of the home of U...
Adam Beam, Associated Press

California judge orders release of footage of Pelosi attack

Footage of the attack on former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband will be released publicly.
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Fiber Optical cables connected to an optic ports and Network cables connected to ethernet ports...
Brian Huston, CE and Anthony Perkins, BICSI

Why Every Business Needs a Structured Cabling System

A structured cabling system benefits businesses by giving you faster processing speeds and making your network more efficient and reliable.
notebook with password notes highlighted...
PC Laptops

How to Create Strong Passwords You Can Actually Remember

Learn how you can create strong passwords that are actually easy to remember! In a short time you can create new ones in seconds.
house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 Reasons You May Want to Consider Apartment Life Over Owning a Home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to Choose What MBA Program is Right for You: Take this Quiz Before You Apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Diverse Group of Energetic Professionals Team Meeting in Modern Office: Brainstorming IT Programmer...
Les Olson

Don’t Let a Ransomware Attack Get You Down | Protect Your Workplace Today with Cyber Insurance

Business owners and operators should be on guard to protect their workplace. Cyber insurance can protect you from online attacks.
Trump Administration Urged To Free Migrants As Virus Surges