Immigration detainment during COVID-19

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Since the breakout of COVID-19, there has been an exponential increase in immigrant detainment. ICE’s plan is increase arrests from places housing undocumented immigrants.  Photo by Veronica G. Cardenas/AP.

Since the breakout of COVID-19, there has been an exponential increase in immigrant detainment. ICE’s plan is increase arrests from places housing undocumented immigrants. Photo by Veronica G. Cardenas/AP.

There has been a sudden influx in immigrant detainment since the global pandemic broke loose. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers have raised operations in “sanctuary cities in order to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants,” according to The New York Times. ICE has initiated around-the-clock surveillance in areas housing undocumented immigrants. Their plan, otherwise known as ‘Operation Palladium,’ is to increase arrests in these sanctuary cities. The cities which the Trump administration have been cracking down on include Boston, New York, Detroit, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, New Orleans and Newark. The ICE officers have become increasingly aggressive in their tactics. They often approach people — whether in public or in the privacy of their homes — with heavy weaponry. In the Bronx, an ICE officer dressed in military attire approached a local resident’s apartment door with an assault rifle in hand. This violence runs even deeper, though. 

Once an undocumented immigrant is caught by ICE officers, they are taken into custody. Even before the worldwide pandemic, these detainment centers were highly unsanitary and unsafe. Much of these systems are set up like prison camps, with an average waiting period of four weeks. However, some people are required to stay in detainment for months, or even years. This sort of detention was once reserved only for those who were considered “a flight risk, or a threat to public safety,” but now is “ubiquitous,” keeping men, women and children behind bars. The conditions within these holding centers are unhygienic and often violent. 


The detainment centers that house the immigrants were unsafe before the breakout of the virus, but even moreso now,even resulting in the death of some immigrants.  Photo by Firdia Lisnawati/AP.

The detainment centers that house the immigrants were unsafe before the breakout of the virus, but even moreso now,even resulting in the death of some immigrants. Photo by Firdia Lisnawati/AP.

Tony Hefner, a guard at Bayview Detention Center in Texas during 1983, filed a case against the INS and Burns Security after witnessing the abusive conditions within the system. He noted that upon arrival, “you could pick up smells from them [the immigrants], because they were lacking hygiene; toothpaste, soap….”  This is still a prevalent issue within detainment centers. Oftentimes, they lack places for immigrants to wash their hands or even to shower. The spaces are usually cramped and over-crowded, with children sometimes forced to sleep on concrete floors. A report from last May indicated that a space designed to accommodate 125 people at most was found to have 900 (the Department of Homeland Security). Infants and babies are often forced to “drink from unwashed bottles … and there are not enough diapers.” There have been many outbreaks in these facilities, ranging from the flu to lice, chicken pox and scabies. 

Yazmin Juarez, whose 19-month-old daughter died during detainment, spoke on the subject. She said of the centers, “I noticed immediately how many sick children there were in detention, that no effort was being made to separate the sick from the healthy.” According to Juarez, the detainment center’s medical staff were largely negligent. They refused to care for her daughter, even though she had symptoms of fever, cough, diarrhea and vomiting. With the current COVID-19 pandemic, these centers are at an even higher risk of spreading sickness. And yet, the government response has not been to reform these centers. No, not at all. Rather, they seem laser-focused on cramming these cells even more. Right, because that’s what’s going to fix the problem. Truly, this entire situation is baffling. These detainment centers were already at a higher risk of spreading disease, and cramming them with more people —  people from the outside world, people who have possibly been exposed — will only amplify the situation. Not to mention, these ICE officers are separating people from their family during a time of crisis. If you ask me, this entire system is only perpetuating the spread of disease, and making an already painful situation worse.

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Samantha Bertolini is a contributor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at samantha.bertolini@uconn.edu.

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