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June 26, 2020

Rep. Kirkpatrick Calls for Urgent Attention to Migrant Detention Facilities Amid COVID-19 Outbreak

Letters From Detainees About Inhumane Conditions at La Palma, AZ

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

THIS WEEK: AZ Daily Star Reports Over 100 COVID Cases from Detention Facility Employees

(Tucson, AZ) – Rep. Kirkpatrick released the following statement after receiving an inadequate response from ICE regarding the urgent and alarming reports describing conditions at a Southern Arizona migrant detention facility. The Office of Rep. Kirkpatrick is asking for immediate attention to review the horrific reports and inadequate oversight from ICE.

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 a letter from detainees at La Palma outlining the horrendous experiences at the correctional center in Eloy.

On Monday, the Office of Rep. Kirkpatrick received a uniform response from ICE. The response outlined “ICE protocols” that are supposedly in place. However, the evidence from detainees and their attorneys shows that these protocols are not being followed. Also this week, the Kirkpatrick office received a bundle of letters from La Palma detainees describing conditions and asking for help, staff is currently reviewing and translating the letters from migrants.  

“I have worked with my Congressional colleagues to formally address these concerns with ICE, and we have largely been ignored. I have been raising this issue and communicating with local leaders, advocacy groups, and through my platforms– my office is doing everything we can to shine a light on this dire situation. It’s becoming increasingly alarming and we need people to know what is happening. We must demand more accountability and oversight at these facilities, ICE must immediately investigate the complaints and comply with CDC guidelines, or people will die in these facilities,” said Rep. Kirkpatrick.

Yesterday, The Arizona Daily Star reported, 103 coronavirus cases reported among Arizona immigration detention center’s employees. AZ Daily Star reporter, Curt Prendergast wrote, More than 100 employees of a private prison company that runs immigration detention centers in Arizona have tested positive for the coronavirus since the pandemic began. At the Eloy Detention Center, 83 employees of CoreCivic have tested positive for the coronavirus in recent months, according to information provided by the company. Another 20 CoreCivic employees at the La Palma Correctional Center have tested positive.”

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

NBC reporters, Jacob Soboroff and Julia Ainsley wrote, “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.”

These alarming reports come 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,”

The Representatives 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 full text of the Representatives letter to ICE and attachment of detainee letter can be found HERE.

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