The organizations and members of the Borderland Immigration Council, as well as other community allies, are extremely concerned, but unfortunately not surprised, by the news that COVID-19 continues to spread throughout ICE detention in the Borderland, with COVID-19 cases now reported both at the El Paso Processing Center as well as the Otero County Detention Center.
An additional 90, or more, women at the El Paso Processing Center have also been exposed.
ICE’s stated policy of detention continues to threaten the health and lives of the hundreds of migrants currently detained in the El Paso sector, as well as government employees, detention contractors, and legal staff. Ultimately, the entire El Paso community is put at risk by holding people in the confined and unhygienic conditions present in ICE detention facilities.
Unless ICE immediately agrees to release these women, and all migrants in detention at EPPC and other facilities (including CBP facilities), so that they can self-quarantine and employ the social distancing protocols that we all have been ordered to practice, the virus will continue to spread within the facility and beyond; hospitals and medical centers should prepare accordingly.
Legal and humanitarian advocates are standing by to coordinate the safe release of detained individuals in accordance with social distancing guidelines.
Statements from BIC members and other individuals and organizations follow below:
Melissa M. Lopez, Executive Director, Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services, Inc., El Paso, TX: “DMRS joined our partners in calling for the release of individuals from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody several weeks ago. We made this call out of a genuine care and concern for our clients and every single individual in those detention centers. Those in ICE custody have no control over their own health and safety.
Despite our calls for additional action to be taken by ICE to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of all, our calls for action went unanswered. I cannot imagine the level of fear, anxiety, and suffering every single person in detention must be enduring knowing they have no control over their situation and are at the mercy of a federal agency that refuses to provide any information to local stakeholders about the steps being taken to ensure their health and well-being.”
Ruben Garcia, Executive Director, Annunciation House, El Paso, TX: “On so many levels, in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the correct thing to do medically and humanly is to release immigrants from ICE detention. A COVID-19 outbreak in the ICE El Paso women’s detention area was inevitable and will continue to be inevitable so long as immigrants are clustered together.
Detention facilities and social distancing are inherently contradictory. The only response is release. Let’s come together- ICE/CBP and community NGOs – to see to the orderly release of detained immigrants so that they can be reunited with family and friends in safe home environments.”
Taylor Levy, Taylor Levy Law, El Paso, Texas: “It is devastating–but not surprising–to hear that the COVID-19 pandemic has officially hit the El Paso Service Processing Center. The immigrants and asylum-seekers detained inside are terrified as they are trapped in group barracks where social distancing is impossible and sanitation policies are abhorrent.
ICE must urgently act to release people detained in the center using long-standing alternatives to detention such as humanitarian parole and GPS ankle-monitoring. Upon release, these persons can safely quarantine at migrant houses of hospitality and with their own families. This is the humane response, and the only logical one to protect the overall public health of our community.”
Dylan Corbett, Executive Director, Hope Border Institute: “A systemic lack of accountability puts migrants’ lives in danger and it places entire communities at risk. In this time of pandemic, we can no longer wait to put in place necessary reforms to overhaul a deep-seated culture of abuse in immigrant enforcement agencies.
We demand transparency and collaboration with our border community from ICE now. All of our lives depend on it.”
Linda Corchado, Director of Legal Services, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, El Paso, Texas: “Las Americas, and other community partners, have warned ICE and CBP about the potential for mass COVID-19 outbreaks for weeks. Everything that’s happened has been knowable, predictable, and preventable. But ICE did not take this seriously, did not take the easy and necessary steps of sanitation, testing, and release that could have prevented this crisis. This is a situation of their own making that has put detained migrants, our families and communities, even the people working for ICE, at needless risk. They failed all of us.”
Jessica Miles, Miles Imigration Law, El Paso, Texas: “This didn’t have to happen; it is the product of an institution that puts detention above everything, including public safety and human wellbeing. Due to the realities of ICE detention, ICE cannot ensure safe, sanitary conditions. The release of all detained migrants in the El Paso sector, starting with these women, is necessary to slow the spread of this disease and protect the larger community.”
Imelda Maynard, Staff Attorney, Catholic Charities of Southern New Mexico, Las Cruces, New Mexico: “Catholic Charities of Southern New Mexico is disheartened to hear how once again our government has acted with reckless disregard to human life and dignity. Instead of heeding the community’s calls to release all people currently detained so as to avoid any possibility of contagion and unnecessary sickness, the government ignored our pleas.
There are now people within the detention centers both at the El Paso Processing Center and within the Otero Processing center who have tested positive for COVID-19. We renew our pleas to set our fellow brothers and sisters free. Detention should not mean death.”
Gabriela Munoz, Field Coordinator, HIAS, El Paso, Texas: “The El Paso City Council has extended its stay-at-home order until May 17. With local governments taking such measures, the question is why has ICE not released detained persons to prevent an outbreak in their facilities, which leaves people vulnerable to exposure and sickness? Releasing persons from detention is a sanitary measure to avoid a crisis.”
Marissa Nuñez, EPIC Project Coordinator, Innovation Law Lab, El Paso, Texas: “The increased numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases in immigration detention centers nationwide make it clear that ICE shares responsibility in the transmission of COVID-19 in our communities.
Despite warnings from public health officials, ICE has continued the reprehensible practice of transferring our clients between detention centers within El Paso and around the country. These transfers put both detained individuals and surrounding communities at elevated risk. Mitigating COVID-19 is a shared social responsibility, and ICE cannot operate like it is excluded from measures to protect public health.”
Héctor Ruiz, Staff Attorney, Santa Fe Dreamers Project, El Paso, Texas: “It is heartbreaking that COVID-19 has reached the El Paso Service Processing Center. It should shock our collective conscience as a community that despite health expert and local government calls for social distancing and utmost hygienic practice, along with early pleas from community service providers for ICE to release individuals in their custody, the agency has continued to put the lives of detained individuals, as well as its own employees, at risk by failing to take this health crisis seriously, thus putting the health of our entire community on the line.
The crowded living spaces and lack of adequate hygienic supplies or medical care in ICE facilities makes slowing the spread COVID-19 in our community impossible. We are incredibly disappointed, and we renew our call for the immediate release of folks in ICE custody to the safety of their communities.”
Gloria Amesquita, Executive Director, Mexicanos en Exilio, El Paso, Texas: “In these times of uncertainty, ICE’s refusal to do what is right and take proactive steps to safeguard the health of migrants under their care puts the community at risk. Individuals continue to be held in detention when there are clear alternatives.
Instead, ICE is choosing to ignore the risks to the health of these individuals under their care. This unnecessary detention severely undermines the much needed trust and heightens the danger for everyone. We and our allies call for the release of these individuals so that they may be with their families during this challenging time for everyone.”
Family Member of a Detained Person Inside the El Paso Processing Center: “Having a loved one in detention is tragic. Having our loved ones inside the detention center amid a pandemic is terrifying. Our loved ones’ lives are in the hands of an agency that has demonstrated a lack of accountability.
Their lives depend on the reckless decision to continue to operate this inessential business that profits from having human beings suffer. ICE has shown their lack of morals, allowing people to die in order to continue making a profit. We will continue to fight until ICE has released them all. ICE NEEDS TO BE SHUT DOWN.”