Houston Public Media Items: Internment camp staff for immigrants tested positive for COVID-19
March 24, 2020
Maira Sheikh(512) 712-2364
Communications Director, Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative
Julie Pasch(713) 261-5911
Executive Attorney, Deportation Defense Houston
Deportation Defense Houston is asking the Immigration and Customs Agency (ICE) to release anyone detained in Houston area facilities in the face of a public health emergency caused by COVID-19. Confirmation that a security guard at the Montgomery Processing Center has tested positive for the virus underscores the risk our customers face from immigration detention.
“For public health, it is imperative that ICE release all detainees immediately,” he said Julie Pasch, Managing Attorney for Deportation Defense Houston (DDH). “The fact that ICE detainees in Houston have already been exposed to COVID-19 by a facility guard who has tested positive is extremely worrying and underscores the risk for our customers of remaining in detention.”
Immigration detainees are already prone to disease spreading, especially those who are immunodeficient, and have no access to adequate health care or living conditions. The four detention facilities in the Houston region have approximately 1,000 beds per facility. The detainees live in dormitories where around twelve to eighty people live. The U.S. government has proposed this People should not gather in groups of ten or more to prevent the virus from spreading.
Poor medical care in prisons exacerbates the dangers of COVID-19. “Our customers routinely experience low-quality medical care while in detention,” he said Marisa Peterson, a lawyer at DDH. “You have to make several medical requests before you can see a doctor or nurse. Our HIV-positive patients often have problems receiving antiretroviral drugs. We know from our clients’ experiences with medical care while in detention that ICE is not prepared for this public health emergency. “Inadequate medical care in ICE facilities has been a known problem for many years, as highlighted by Congress examinations, Dozens of complainand reports from the Inspector General’s DHS Office and the Government Accountability Office.
“Now is the time to protect our communities,” said Elizabeth “Chiqui” Sanchez-Kennedy, Director of Immigration Law Services at YMCA International Services, member of the DDH cohort. “Many places, including Harris County, have released people after realizing that keeping people in confined spaces is dangerous to public health. ICE has to do the same for everyone in immigration detention. “The detention of immigrants is civil and not criminal, and ICE has the power to release everyone currently detained.
In response to the growing COVID-19 crisis, Deportation Defense Houston demands that ICE release everyone in detention to ensure the safety of those currently detained and to protect the public health of our communities.
Deportation Defense Houston, a project of the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative, is a cohort of four legal services organizations in Houston that represent people detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the Houston region.
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