Meet the Latino representatives urging ICE to release immigrants from detention centers to prevent further spread of COVID-19.
Texas Democrat Reps. Joaquin Castro, Henry Cuellar, and Sylvia Garcia visited the South Texas ICE Processing Center in Pearsall and the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley. They were appalled by the situation.
“The conditions are bad. These people are living in a petri dish,” Castro, the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said.
This prompted Latino representatives to urge immigration officials to release immigrant detainees from detention centers to prevent further spread of COVID-19.
The representatives decided to visit the detention centers as ICE reports more cases of COVID-19 inside the facilities by detainees and immigration workers. The Latino lawmakers also shared that at least one female detainee, with a 7-year-old child, has been in indention for more than 300 days.
“I was concerned and disheartened by how long some people have been here. [Some] even for a year and I can’t figure out why,” Rep. Sylvia Garcia told reporters. Rep. Garcia also added that she is seeking to close all detention centers.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Garcia said. “We have seen 15 of these centers. I can’t figure out why these children are here. I’m on the record to close down every detention center we can.”
As of today, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report that 45 employees in detention centers nationwide have tested positive for COVID-19. Another 153 ICE employees, not working inside detention centers, have also tested positive for coronavirus.
As of June 13, out of 24,041 detainees, 837 have tested positive for the coronavirus, and more than 8,000 have been tested. Many of those COVID-19 cases are in Texas. ICE has said that those detainees who test positive for coronavirus are insolation, but that is part of the problem. Some detainees reportedly do not want to expose any symptoms because they fear being placed in further isolation.
Three family units are in complete isolation at the detention center in Dilley, Texas, after they were exposed to a worker who tested positive for COVID-19. Yet those in isolation have yet to be tested for the virus. They can only go outside to use the bathroom.
Maria — a detainee — is in insolation with her two-year-old son. “I tell him we’re not going to die,” said Maria, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition that her last name is withheld because she fears retribution in her country of origin if she is deported. “We feel anguished. We can’t do anything for our own lives or the lives of our children.” Maria said that a nurse briefly inspected her son after he vomited but never took his temperature.
Maria added, “If they can’t take care of a stomachache, how will they attend to us with the virus?”
Rep. Castro said that he would continue to pressure presidential candidate Joe Biden to work on addressing how he will reform immigration policies.
“I’ve encouraged the Biden campaign, including on a phone call with [Biden’s wife] Dr. Jill Biden, to appoint real reformers to head DHS and its agencies, including ICE, CBP, and USCIS,” Castro said in an interview with the Current last month. “It will take someone truly dedicated to get in there and work hard to undo the damage the Trump administration has done.”
In April, a federal judge ordered the release of hundreds of vulnerable detainees from detention centers in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.