The Trump administration has lost its mind. Really. During this pandemic, borders have been closed, airports shuttered and international travel generally restricted across the globe, all in an effort to contain COVID-19. The Trump administration has gone as far, or further, than most. It has shut U.S. borders to “non-essential” travel, which along the southern border means anyone seeking asylum is removed immediately to Mexico. 20,000 people have been expelled under this order. The administration has suspended most other forms of authorized migration as well, including the issuance of green cards, and restricting who can get work permits.
Meanwhile, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has continued to deport people throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. To be very clear, they are doing this, well aware of the concurrent risk of spreading COVID-19. The United States is now the global center of coronavirus infections with over 30% of confirmed cases across the globe and well over 25% of global deaths. Within jails, prisons, and immigration detention facilities, the rate of infection is much higher than among the general population. Inside ICE’s detention facilities specifically, the virus has now spread throughout the system - a primary reason being that ICE continues to transfer people within this network, guaranteeing its spread. The first confirmed death in custody due to COVID-19 has happened. There will be more. A Federal judge has mandated that ICE let more people out of detention - and in doing so, he noted ICE’s “callous indifference to the safety and wellbeing of the Subclass members [detained immigrants at risk]. The evidence suggests systemwide inaction that goes beyond a mere ‘difference of medical opinion or negligence.’”
The danger of spreading the disease is made that much worse by the fact that before being deported, people are transferred to staging facilities, where they are held for days and then put on airplanes. There is no way to safely deport people under these conditions. Indeed, as deportation flights have continued anyway, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has now been shown to have contributed to the spread of coronavirus to Guatemala, Haiti, Mexico and Colombia - and possibly elsewhere. Especially concerning are deportation flights to the city of Guayquil in Ecuador, which now has among the worst infection rates by population in the Americas.
For these and other reasons, hundreds of human rights organizations (here, here, and here), members of the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the editorial boards of Washington Post, Miami Herald, and Boston Globe have called for an end to these flights. The governments of countries receiving people being deported have tried to get the flights called off during this pandemic, but these governments have been threatened with sanctions by Trump if they do anything to halt or “unreasonably” slow the process down.
Amidst all of the controversy, the number of flights has actually increased. ICE has only promised to begin testing - but only of some people. When such testing will start for the general population of those being deported - or even if it will - is anybody's guess. Testing within ICE’s detention network has thus far been minimal, despite the spread of the disease. Testing a handful of people of only those showing symptoms before a flight is wholly inadequate.
At this point, one might be thinking: "It can’t get worse, right?" But then this is the Trump team and things can ALWAYS get worse. Based on reports from attorneys representing clients scheduled to be deported to Haiti on Monday, May 11 and confirmed separately by the Miami Herald, ICE intends to include at least five people that ICE personnel know are COVID-19 positive on this deportation flight to Haiti - along with 95 other people.
This is insane.
Not only does this make a mockery of the idea that ICE is taking any kind of preventative measures seriously; it means that Haiti will be forced to quarantine everyone on that flight. Haiti has thus far seen relatively few confirmed cases. While this may very well be the result of few tests being given, it is clear that Haiti has been holding its own, thus far walking a very thin line of prevention, given the state of its public health infrastructure. If the pandemic were to take hold here, it would be devastating. ICE seems okay with helping make that tragedy happen.
The United States must stop all of these deportation flights for the duration of the pandemic. And ICE must release people from detention to prevent further deaths. People should be let out and allowed to quarantine with family members. For those without family in the United States, community organizations around the country have already been preparing for the possibility of mass releases, to ensure that people are taken care of. We are running out of time.
I know Trump does not care about these people; they are mere talking points to him, and for the sake of political posturing, he will let them die. That leaves Congress to force his hand by cutting funding, or the courts to suspend the flights and be bolder in mandating the release of everybody in custody. There are limits to effectiveness with both of these targets. But we must speak out.
Send a message to your member of Congress asking them to speak out against these flights!