[Pnews] Women in ICE Detention, Fearing Coronavirus, Make Video to Protest Unsafe Conditions
ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Tue Mar 31 11:35:18 EDT 2020
https://theintercept.com/2020/03/30/coronavirus-ice-detention/ Women in
ICE Detention, Fearing Coronavirus, Make Video to Protest Unsafe Conditions
Debbie Nathan - March 30, 2020
*Women locked in* an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center
in Louisiana are terrified that they have been exposed to a person ill with
the coronavirus, and they fear that they, too, will get sick. The women
have been trying to communicate with the world about their plight, and
they’ve been punished for trying.
Immigrants in ICE detention nationwide are intensely afraid of contracting
Covid-19. More than 37,000 people are detained in facilities described by
government inspectors, nongovernmental organizations, and the prisoners
themselves as crowded and dirty. As two Department of Homeland Security
doctors warned Congress
the facilities pose “an imminent risk to the health and safety of immigrant
detainees” and to the public as well.
At least four ICE employees at detention facilities used by ICE in New
Jersey, Texas, and Colorado have tested positive for Covid-19. On March 24,
ICE announced the first detainee case. ICE later confirmed a second case, a
52-year-old detainee held in Newark.
The women who have been warning about the sick detainee in their midst are
at the South Louisiana ICE Processing Center, in a rural area of the state
near Lafayette. It is run by the private prison corporation GEO Group and
holds more than 400 women. Five of them, all asylum-seekers from Cuba, have
spoken with The Intercept by phone. One of the women, Rosa Pino Hidalgo,
works in the kitchen. She said that a young Ecuadorian woman who worked in
the kitchen with her fell ill with symptoms consistent with Covid-19.
Detainees at the South Louisiana ICE Processing Center called The Intercept
using a “video visitation” program. They showed posters explaining their
fears of Covid-19 contagion in detention. They were interrupted when a
guard seized their posters. *Video: Debbie Nathan for The Intercept*
“She served food and cleaned up after meals,” Pino Hidalgo said in Spanish.
But recently, the woman “got sick with a sore throat, high fever, and
diarrhea. She spent three days in bed. There has been a lot of flu going
around here, and the medical staff gave her a flu test. It came out
negative. Then a doctor and nurse went into her dorm, dressed in medical
gowns, masks, gloves, and protective eyeglasses. We’ve never seen that when
people have the flu. They carried the woman out on a gurney. Her body was
also in protective gear and she was hooked up to oxygen.”
“They’re saying this quarantine is for the flu. We don’t believe them.”
Pino Hidalgo said that the dorm the sick woman lived in, which holds 72
women, was locked down in quarantine. “They pass the food under the door.
The guards are wearing a medical gown and other protection. They’re saying
this quarantine is for the flu. We don’t believe them.”
The woman was removed on the gurney about two weeks ago, according to Pino
Hidalgo. Last week, she reappeared in the detention center’s medical unit.
“I’ve been there, and she’s in a room with a sign on the window that says,
‘confirmed or suspected Covid-19,’” said Yadira Labrada Merino, another
This past weekend, several of the women used the detention center’s “video
visitation” technology, using tablets provided by the detention center, to
talk about their fears of contagion at the facility. The Intercept recorded
them as they held up posters describing their situation. Their presentation
was suddenly interrupted when a guard began yelling and confiscated the
posters. For several hours, according to the detainees, all of the
detention center’s tablets were seized, televisions were turned off, and
phone calls were prohibited.
Bryan Cox, director of public affairs for ICE’s Southern Region, refused to
discuss the sick woman’s health. Cox told The Intercept by email that
“multiple false allegations” have been made recently about detainees being
infected with Covid-19. He wrote that no ICE detainees in Louisiana have
tested positive. He said ICE isolates detainees together if they have fever
or respiratory symptoms, and if they have moderate to severe Covid-19
symptoms, they are sent to hospitals and may be tested there.
On March 18, according to an internal Department of Homeland Security
Covid-19 report obtained by The Nation
the ICE Health Services Corps noted that it was “monitoring” two dozen
detainees in 10 facilities and had nine “in isolation.”
Covid-19 case statistics
from Louisiana suggest that contagion is of extraordinary concern in that
state. The state is experiencing an unusually rapid spread of the illness.
According to the Louisiana health department, there were 54 cases as of
last week in the six counties surrounding the South Louisiana ICE facility,
with almost a 4 percent death rate. To date, Louisiana has reported 3,540
cases of Covid-19 and 151 deaths.
[image: The Coronavirus Crisis]Read Our Complete CoverageThe Coronavirus
ICE will not discuss Covid-19 with the incarcerated immigrants at that
facility or with people who assist them. Rachel Taber, who works for the
Southeastern Immigrant Rights Network in New Orleans said she helped a
detainee, Francisca Morales Diaz, to get bond so she could be released.
Taber drove to the South Louisiana Processing Center to pick her up. But
Taber was told that Morales Diaz couldn’t be released because she was
quarantined. Taber secured her release, and Morales Diaz told me that while
detained, she lived on the opposite side of the facility from where the
sick woman was housed. But two days before she was released, Morales Diaz
said, the women in her area were told that they were being quarantined “so
we wouldn’t get sick.”
Morales Diaz said that no information about Covid-19 was being given to the
detainees when she was locked up. She said the women tried to get it from
the news on the television, where they had learned about social distancing
and the need for law enforcement workers to wear protective gear such as
gloves. Morales Diaz said she saw a Cuban detainee yelling at a guard for
not wearing a mask or gloves. The guard ignored the detainee. Often, media
is denied to the women. “They refuse to clean the living areas to protest
that we don’t have proper cleaning supplies,” Morales Diaz said. “The staff
punishes them by turning off the TV.”
Morales Diaz has diabetes, and when Taber came to pick her up, Morales Diaz
requested her medical records. But the officials refused to release them.
Taber turned on her phone to make a recording and repeated her records
request to the officials. She asked if there were any Covid-19 cases at
South Louisiana. “I cannot affirm or deny,” the official said.
Since the Ecuadorian kitchen worker got sick, ICE has quietly released a
few detainees from South Louisiana without charging them bond, according to
Samantha Magdaleno. She coordinates a project in Michigan that assists
women locked up in South Louisiana, including by gathering donations
<https://www.facebook.com/donate/209769680127308/> so that they can buy
soap from the commissary. One bar costs $2 to $3, according to the women.
That’s the only way to get enough soap to do regular hand-washing; what’s
given out for free is inadequate. “Once a week, we’re given five bars per
dorm of 72 people,” said detainee Maybis Ranzola Lamas. “It’s used up in a
[image: The War on Immigrants]Read Our Complete CoverageThe War on
So far, the South Louisiana women have used videos to air their concerns
and have been briefly punished. In several other ICE centers
detainees have staged hunger strikes. In three incidents in Texas and
Louisiana, guards used force, including pepper spray on four women.
Meanwhile, two federal court judges in Manhattan last week ordered the
release of 14 ICE detainees with health problems. One judge noted that ICE
measures to prevent an outbreak of Covid-19 are “patently insufficient
been filed by coalitions of immigrant rights and civil rights advocates,
demanding the release from ICE detention of at-risk immigrants in
California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Texas.
But at the South Louisiana Processing, detainees are still “living almost
on top of each other,” said Ranzola Lamas. Another detainee, Karina Serrano
Rodriguez, said the women sleep in bunk beds 3 feet apart. “The guards come
in from outside and wear no masks,” Ranzola Lamas said.
Pino Hidalgo said her dorm houses three women older than 60 — putting them
at high-risk of dying if they get Covid-19. One has diabetes. “I myself am
a cancer survivor,” Pino Hidalgo said. “Nobody is protecting me.”
“I am having nightmares,” said Ranzola Lamas. “We feel almost forgotten.”
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