The following is a slightly edited talk given during the Workers World Party webinar “What Road to Socialism?”on May 16.
I’m humbled and thankful to have this opportunity to share some of my firsthand experiences with y’all. As a legal assistant, I work closely with asylum seekers who are detained in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody.
There is no doubt that the Trump administration has used this pandemic as an excuse to push its anti-immigration agenda. The border has been shut down and thousands of migrants expelled. Now, in at least one detention center, ICE is offering parents an ultimatum: 1) give us permission to release your child while you remain in detention or 2) remain detained with your child. After all the trauma families suffered in 2018, ICE is still trying to separate families.
I could hear the anguish in the voices of our clients. Some have even told me they fear they won’t make it out alive. A COVID-19 outbreak is inevitable and the risk of spreading the coronavirus is not taken seriously by ICE or private operator GEO Group’s staff. This is proven by the lack of sanitation in the facility, and the fact that the practice of social distancing is impossible.
These families are trapped; they don’t have access to personal protective equipment or hand sanitizer. The GEO staff members and ICE officers don’t wear masks or any other sort of PPE either, risking the spread of this deadly virus.
The physical and mental health of people in these detention centers begins to deteriorate the longer they remain in detention. Quality medical care is nonexistent.
Mental health care is also absent in these facilities. Some people fear being placed in solitary confinement if they disclose suicidal ideation or feelings of depression.
After our clients heard about the pandemic through the news on their TVs, our clients began demanding answers from ICE. After ICE was bombarded, they decided to rid the TVs of all news channels.
There is no reason these people should remain in detention other than for profit. GEO Group and CoreCivic together made almost $500 million last year.
There are 1,181 confirmed COVID-19 infections among detainees in the U.S. However, as of May 16 only 2,368 of the 26,660 detainees have been tested, according to ICE, so that number may be even higher (ice.gov/coronavirus). Unfortunately, Carlos Ernesto Escobar Mejia was the first to die from COVID-19 while in ICE custody. A father at Karnes has taken his own life amid the pandemic, and more deaths are inevitable if things don’t change.
Not one more preventable death should occur! We need to free them all!
B.L.S. is a Mexicana currently living in San Antonio. An advocate for immigrants, she works as a legal assistant at a non-profit serving asylum seekers. She has decided to be a part of WWP to stand in solidarity with immigrants, protect the environment and continue the fight for Medicare for All.