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Death Camps American Style?

Written by Christine Ho   
Monday, 04 May 2020 04:58

Death Camps, American Style?

Christine G.T. Ho

In the race to the bottom, America is number one, outdistancing the rest of the world in total COVID-19 deaths (68,715) and total confirmed COVID-19 infections (1,192,216), [], May 4, 2020. Many in the U.S. live in fear of Coronavirus, but none more so than those held captive in ICE custody. Two words capture their predicament: “sitting ducks.”

Immigrant prisons have become incubators of COVID-19 during this pandemic. More than 200 immigrant prisons, aka “detention centers,” dot the American landscape, housing more than 40,000 undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers every day. They are detained under civil law because being undocumented is not a crime and seeking asylum is a legal right guaranteed by both U.S. law and international law (1951 U. N. Convention on Refugees).

Recently I received a letter from those in Broward Transitional Center (BTC) in Pompano Beach, Florida, a facility owned and operated by prison contractor giant, GEO Group, where I formerly provided humanitarian support as a volunteer. It was written on behalf of more than 500 detainees and signed by almost 200 of them. Many have family members who are U.S. citizens or Legal Permanent Residents. They asked me to publicize the deplorable, unhygienic conditions.

Extremely crowded conditions where social distancing is impossible were reported: 6 people sharing a living space 10 by 12 feet and, at every meal, more than 300 people eating elbow to elbow. They also described a practice that ICE calls “cohorting:” segregating numerous sick people together in spaces separated from the general population. According to medical experts, “cohorting” not only defies CDC guidelines but violates basic principles of public health and accelerates the spread of the virus []. Thus far, ICE has confirmed two cases of COVID-19 infection among detainees in Florida, both at Krome Processing Center in Miami but none at BTC, with very little testing [].

Extremely low levels of hygiene were also reported.  No personal protective equipment. No hand sanitizers, masks or gloves, reserved for the guards. No cleaning supplies. Furthermore, there is no emergency water supply, resulting in a water outage on March 17, 2020. During the outage, they had no drinking water, could not wash their hands, use the toilet or shower. They had to stage a peaceful protest for water to return.

Overcrowding is made worse by ICE transfers and failed deportations. Without adequate screening or testing, those newly arrested by ICE and many transferred from other facilities are added every day. Even worse, ICE attempts every day, without success, to deport detainees without using personal protective equipment. These daily transfers and round trips to the airport effectively expose detainees, guards and all members of the public with whom they interact to COVID-19. ICE has refused publicly to stop the daily transfers [].

On April 20, 2020, a federal judge in California ordered ICE to consider releasing “high risk” detainees, “high risk” being defined as chronic health conditions, 55+ years of age and pregnant women. The judge also ordered increased protection against COVID-19 infection in line with CDC standards. [].

Despite this court ruling, one BTC detainee from Bangladesh with chronic kidney disease and diabetes out-of-control, was denied release by ICE on April 24, 2020 (personal communication). It must be pointed out that the court ruling leaves the vast majority of those incarcerated not eligible for release because they do not meet the “high risk” criteria.

A federal lawsuit was filed in Miami on April 13, 2020, charging ICE with violating federal standards for safe COVID-19 practice. It also sought the release of detainees in three immigrant prisons in Florida: Krome, BTC and Glades County Detention Center. []. In response to the lawsuit, a federal judge in Miami, on May 1, 2020, ordered ICE to begin releasing detainees at the three facilities, with the goal of reducing capacity to 75% within two weeks []. Sadly, some have described ICE’s efforts at complying with the court order as a game of “detention chess,” transferring detainees from the three facilities to local jails and far away.

A call from BTC on May 1, 2020 informed me that more than 100 people had staged a peaceful protest inside, demanding that BTC/GEO stop transferring new people to BTC on a daily basis. The police and military were called in and detainees were threatened with weapons but no one was injured. They were then dispersed and ordered back to their rooms.

In this Coronavirus moment, ICE should not squander the opportunity to showcase America’s greatness by demonstrating that it is human and capable of mercy. This can be done by immediately releasing all immigrants and asylum seekers from “detention.” your social media marketing partner
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