Days after Hurricane Laura in Louisiana, the situation for people detained in immigration and customs control (ICE) facilities in the United States remains critical.
ICE reportedly evacuated at least two immigration facilities in southern Louisiana prior to the hurricane. However, the storm created catastrophic conditions at ICE facilities further inland. Serious damage occurred in the LaSalle ICE Processing Center in Jena. LaSalle correctional facility in Olla; and Jackson Parish Correctional Center in Jonesboro.
Louisiana became the new hub for immigration prisons under the Trump administration. 8,000 of the approximately 51,000 people in ICE custody were held in Louisiana last year. The new facilities are located in remote areas, far from New Orleans or other major cities.
After the storm, reports of limited electricity, overflowing toilets and no running water in the ICE facilities quickly surfaced. With daily temperatures in the mid-90s and no air conditioning, many people have asked to sleep outside in the prison yard.
The power was off some days in the Jackson Parish facility, which can accommodate up to 1,200 people. At least one dormitory with 60 people only had a single fan to combat the heat. Some detainees wiped up human waste without gloves after they overflowed the toilets.
Against the background of the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation is even more critical. ICE prisons remain hotspots for the virus.
Health experts and immigration advocates have repeatedly called on ICE to take immediate steps to release people from immigration facilities.
Physical distancing is not possible in the overcrowded prisons. Access to medical care, personal protective equipment and cleaning products is scarce. A man indeed died of COVID-19 In ICE custody earlier this week, bringing the total number of deaths jailed this fiscal year to 19.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has issued public statements historically suspended immigration enforcement in the event of natural disasters. Enforcement efforts were suspended this summer when forest fires devastated parts of California and the southwest. The DHS also ceased operations for other devastating hurricanes, such as Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
No such statement appears to have been made for Hurricane Laura.
ICE’s response to both the COVID-19 pandemic and hurricane shows that the health and safety of thousands of people in ICE custody, their employees and communities as a whole cannot be systematically protected. It is at the agency’s discretion to detain immigrants on probation. ICE’s failure to act immediately will lead to further disastrous results.
SUBMITTED AT: Immigration and Customs Control
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