NATCHEZ, Miss. (AP) — Several immigrants’ rights groups filed a complaint against those running a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Mississippi, saying it’s experiencing the largest COVID-19 outbreak at any ICE facility in the country because safety policies aren’t being followed.
In a letter sent to U.S. Department of Homeland Security officials on Monday, 15 organizations said the New Orleans field office is violating COVID-19 policies issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — and ICE itself.
The civil rights and liberties complaint says that detainees are grouped close together in holding rooms at the Adams County Detention Center, making social distancing impossible, and that they don’t have consistent access to soap or disinfecting supplies. The groups also wrote that guards refuse to wear facemasks and ICE hasn’t made an effort to vaccinate incoming detained immigrants.
Spokesperson Sarah Loicano said ICE has taken a “strategic approach” to combat the virus and protect everyone at its facilities.
“ICE and the on-site medical professionals continue to take the necessary steps to quickly isolate the exposed detainees, provide proper medical care and prevent further spread infection,” Loicano said in an emailed statement.
Almost 390 COVID-19 infections were reported at the Natchez-area facility on Saturday, the complaint said, up from four on March 12.
But Loicano said the detention center has seen a large population increase recently. She said the daily average population at the facility has been about 1,100 in May but it was 267 in December.
The letter also says detainees are regularly being transferring from the detention center to other facilities in the region after short stays.
“ICE is knowingly spreading COVID-19 through facility transfers and even abroad with continued deportations,” Lorena Quiroz, director of the Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity, said in a statement. “Nearly 15 months into the pandemic, it’s clear that this agency’s callous indifference toward the well-being of the Black and Brown immigrants under its custody is needlessly causing infections and deaths.”
This outbreak at the Adams County Detention Center comes as COVID-19 cases are on the rise in ICE facilities across the U.S., according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The detention population has risen by nearly 3,000 over the past several weeks, and the COVID-19 infection rate is 12%. At least nine people have died from the virus after being infected in ICE facilities, the center said.