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March 11, 2020

Letters to ICE Facilities Warn of Dire Consequences if there is a Breakout of the Virus

ADELANTO/BAKERSFIELD — Today the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California sent letters to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) saying an effective plan must be developed for prevention and management of the COVID-19 virus at its detention centers.

The letters ask for meetings with ICE officials to discuss how the agency is protecting the health of people in its custody and people who work at the centers. The letters stress the urgency for developing a plan, saying, “Not having one may cost lives.”

Letters were sent from the ACLU SoCal to officials at the Adelanto ICE Processing Center in San Bernardino County and the Mesa Verde ICE Processing Facility in Bakersfield in Kern County. The letter to Adelanto was cosigned by Human Rights Watch, an international organization devoted to defending the rights of people in 90 countries.

Similar letters are being sent today by the ACLU to other ICE detention centers throughout California.

“ICE has a narrow window to put in place a comprehensive emergency plan that protects people in its custody from COVID-19,” said ACLU SoCal Staff Attorney Eva Bitrán. “An outbreak inside a detention center would have devastating consequences.” The letters point out that people in detention are highly vulnerable to outbreaks of contagious illnesses because they are living in close quarters and are often in poor health. Medical care in the facilities has been documented to be severely inadequate.

A Los Angeles Times article on conditions at Adelanto found that people detained there could wait for “weeks and months” to see a physician.

The letters cite several recommendations for reducing the threat of a COVID-19 breakout, including reducing the population at the centers through release on bond or parole. And ICE should exercise discretion to halt or at least reduce the number of people who are newly arrested and detained.

“ICE should recognize one of the most important steps it can take toward protecting public health is to reduce the number of people in its custody,” said Grace Meng, senior researcher with Human Rights Watch.

The letters stress that treatment decisions — including any decision to isolate detainees — should be evidence-based and humane. The answer is not prolonged, widespread lockdowns.

“ICE should err on the side of safety by decreasing the detained population rather than locking down its prisons,” Bitrán said. “We will be watching to make sure any emergency response protects detained immigrants’ constitutional rights.”

The letters going to Adelanto and Mesa Verde cite other matters that should be addressed in a plan, including:

  • Education of people in custody and the staff on how to minimize the risk of contracting and spreading the virus.
  • Provisions inside the centers for proper hygiene, including for hand washing and cleaning.
  • Staffing plans for how the facility can continue to operate if large numbers of staff are out with the virus.
  • Immediate testing of people in custody or staff members who show any symptoms of the disease.
  • The implementing of additional precautions for those at high risk if infected, including pregnant women, and people with chronic illnesses or compromised immune systems.

The Adelanto and Mesa Verde letters ask for written responses from ICE by March 13.

Read the letter going to Adelanto officials here:

Read the letter going to Mesa Verde officials here: