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June 10, 2020

ICYMI: Rep. Kirkpatrick, Colleagues Send Letter to ICE Regarding Migrant Detention Facilities and Treatment During COVID-19 Pandemic

TODAY– Reports from NBC, “This is a life or death situation”

Includes Detainee Letter About Inhumane Conditions at La Palma

(Tucson, AZ) – Last month, Rep. Kirkpatrick, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (MS), Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Arizona Reps. Grijalva, Gallego, and Stanton sent a letter to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Deputy Director, Matthew T. Albence raising deep concerns about the conditions within migrant detention centers in Arizona, specifically the La Palma, Eloy and Florence centers. The letter sent to ICE from the Representatives also included an attached letter from detainees at La Palma that outline the horrendous experiences at the correctional center in Eloy.

Today, NBC reports that detained migrants say they were forced to clean COVID-infected ICE facility.

NBC reporters, Jacob Soboroff and Julia Ainsley write, “The migrants say the facility forced detainees in inadequate personal protective equipment to clean and work in the facility’s kitchen despite their fear it was a prime point for spreading the virus inside the center due to crowding at meal times. When some migrants protested, the letter says, they were punished with verbal threats and indefinite lock-ins. On one day when migrants resisted working in the kitchen, some were “sent to the hole,” otherwise known as solitary confinement.

“Two migrants described being asked to clean the trash from the nurses’ office, where sick patients were treated. One said he was asked to clean the feces-covered cell of a mentally ill detainee without gloves.”

This NBC report comes after U.S. Representatives sent a letter to ICE Deputy Director Albence outlining the horrendous conditions and urging immediate changes.

The Representatives write, “It has come to our attention that detainees are confined to “pods” at the La Palma center in order to control the spread of COVID-19 and are therefore unable to attend their hearings in person with a judge. It is our understanding that judges can grant a “waiver of personal presence” for a detainee who cannot attend their hearing in person. However, we recently learned that at the La Palma Detention Center, Judge John Davis, has decided not to grant these waivers. As a result, detainees are denied a hearing and denied due process. This is unacceptable.”

They Continue, “We have also heard alarming accounts about the lack of nutrition, sanitation and medical care within these facilities. Unfortunately, conditions within detention centers have a long history of being severely dangerous. As of May 23rd, 75 positive cases of COVID-19 have been identified at the La Palma Detention Center alone. Additionally, we have received a letter from a group of more than 50 detainees describing their inadequate living conditions at the La Palma center. We have enclosed it here for you to read. The conditions they describe are appalling. Please note that the situation at La Palma is escalating. In the detainee letter we are told that a hunger strike is taking place in La Palma.

“Based on these alarming reports, we have serious concerns that these facilities do not have the ability to keep detainees safe during this pandemic, and they are not adhering to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines. As we understand, current detention conditions do not allow for detainees to practice social distancing guidelines, which increase the risk of transmission of the virus among detainees and staff. Many of us have called on ICE to end the flow of new people into prisons and detention facilities and to release detainees on humanitarian parole for this reason, specifically, vulnerable populations such as pregnant women, individuals with disabilities, LGBTQ individuals, and those with severe illnesses,”

They close the letter stating, “It is inhumane to prevent hearings for possible release while forcing individuals to stay in unsanitary and unsafe conditions during this pandemic. We urge you to implement these recommendations and look forward to hearing from you very soon.”

The U.S. Representatives have not received a response from ICE and reports from La Palma facility have only indicated worse conditions and treatment.

The text of the letter and attachment of detainee letter can be found HERE.

Dear Deputy Director Albence and Mr. Lucero,

The spread of COVID-19 is a national emergency that has led to the death of thousands of individuals, including several in detention. We are deeply concerned about the conditions within migrant detention centers in Arizona, specifically the La Palma, Eloy and Florence centers. We have learned of some alarming accounts from within these facilities and we request your urgent action on this matter.

It has come to our attention that detainees are confined to “pods” at the La Palma center in order to control the spread of COVID-19 and are therefore unable to attend their hearings in person with a judge. It is our understanding that judges can grant a “waiver of personal presence” for a detainee who cannot attend their hearing in person. However, we recently learned that at the La Palma Detention Center, Judge John Davis, has decided not to grant these waivers. As a result, detainees are denied a hearing and denied due process. This is unacceptable.

It is imperative that these hearings continue. We request that you instruct the La Palma staff to allow the detainees to safely move from their pod to the Immigration Judge Hearing Room at La Palma. This can be accomplished while taking the necessary safety precautions to protect detainees and staff. However, if there is any doubt about safely transporting detainees to their hearings, a waiver of personal presence should be immediately granted.

We have also heard alarming accounts about the lack of nutrition, sanitation and medical care within these facilities. Unfortunately, conditions within detention centers have a long history of being severely dangerous. As of May 23rd, 75 positive cases of COVID-19 have been identified at the La Palma Detention Center alone. Additionally, we have received a letter from a group of more than 50 detainees describing their inadequate living conditions at the La Palma center. We have enclosed it here for you to read. The conditions they describe are appalling. 

Please note that the situation at La Palma is escalating. In the detainee letter we are told that a hunger strike is taking place in La Palma.

Based on these alarming reports, we have serious concerns that these facilities do not have the ability to keep detainees safe during this pandemic, and they are not adhering to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines. As we understand, current detention conditions do not allow for detainees to practice social distancing guidelines, which increase the risk of transmission of the virus among detainees and staff. Many of us have called on ICE to end the flow of new people into prisons and detention facilities and to release detainees on humanitarian parole for this reason, specifically, vulnerable populations such as pregnant women, individuals with disabilities, LGBTQ individuals, and those with severe illnesses.

It is essential that COVID-19 tests are conducted on staff and detainees, and that these numbers are released to the public periodically. Testing of detainees and staff should be conducted routinely and the results used to determine what safety measures should be taken. Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms should be transferred to medical facilities immediately and all detainees should be provided with clean masks and gloves daily to prevent further spread of the virus.

It is inhumane to prevent hearings for possible release while forcing individuals to stay in unsanitary and unsafe conditions during this pandemic. We urge you to implement these recommendations and look forward to hearing from you very soon.

We request an urgent response on this matter.

Sincerely,

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