Another person has died in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Yesterday word came that a man from Honduras died in an apparent suicide while incarcerated at the Karnes County Detention Facility outside of San Antonio, Texas. The man had been detained in mid-February as part of a “family unit.” He applied for asylum and was denied following a credible fear interview. He then lost an appeal of this decision and was facing deportation back to Honduras when he took his own life. Details of who was traveling with him or what decision had been made in their case(s) are not publicly available. He is the ninth person to die in ICE custody since October 1. We remember all of those who have died in ICE custody. This year they are:
Nebane Abienwi, from Cameroon, October 1, 2019. Otay Mesa Detention facility (CoreCivic).
Roylan Hernandez-Diaz, from Cuba, October 15, 2019, Richwood Correctional Facility (Lasalle Corrections)
Anthony Oluseye Akinyemi from Nigeria, December 21, 2019. Worcester County Jail
Samuelino Pitchout Mavinga from France, December 29, 2019. Otero County Processing Center (Management Training Corporation)
Ben James Owen from Britain, January 26, 2020. Baker County Detention Center (Baker County Sheriff’s Office)
On Monday, January 27, 2020, A 63-year-old Cuban man died in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody at a hospital in Florida. Name not released.
Hernandez Colula from Mexico, February 21, 2020 died in hospital after transfer from facility in Ohio
Maria Celeste Ochoa Yoc de Ramirez from Guatemala, March 8, 2020 Prairieland Detention Facility (LaSalle Corrections)
Across the country - indeed the world - people are being asked to shelter in place, avoid crowds and practice “social distancing” as the chief means to combat the spread of novel coronavirus/COVID-19. Every day major news outlets update total confirmed cases and the number of deaths. We are told to take this seriously - as we should - and all of our lives have been disrupted, routines changed, and sacrifices demanded of us.
And yet, for the Trump administration and its de-humanizing approach to immigration, the beat simply goes on with only minor adjustments. For example, though Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have sought to suspend deportation flights from the United States, the administration has made no public commitment to do so. Flights have slowed down, but at least one flight was conducted to Guatemala this week. Today Chad Wolf announced that deportation flights to Mexico would continue.
The administration has already helped create a public health crisis at the border with Mexico by forcing nearly 60,000 people to wait in Mexico while awaiting asylum hearings in makeshift immigration courts. Now, it seems, the administration is preparing to use the pretext of the coronavirus to deny everyone at the border asylum, indeed, any due process. In a proposed policy, anyone captured at the border will be summarily deported with no hearing. The final outlines of this “policy” have not been released. Clearly such a policy, if it were to be implemented, would lead to a rapid deterioration of conditions at the border.
ICE and Customs and Border Protection are lining up to get extra funds as the result of the $1 trillion emergency coronavirus bill being debated in congress right now. The bill includes money for CBP to build 9 quarantine facilities and for ICE to convert 4 facilities for quarantine. Such measures indicate no intention to release people - which would be the safest option. Obviously neither agency is a public health entity and have no business overseeing health quarantines of any kind. (Though no doubt "business" is what this is all about to begin with!)
Enforcement operations within the United States are supposed to “slow down” to discourage extra crowding in detention facilities, but as of now ICE has no intention of letting people out. This is completely the wrong approach. For people in detention and for those in jails and prisons around the country, their lives are at risk in the face of the usual indifference given to their fates. In the face of that indifference, we are going to keep talking about this until people are let out!
People who are incarcerated are not able to implement safety precautions consistent with what the rest of us are being told to do. Basic infection control methods, such as regular handwashing, are not available to many. Soap is not readily available, sinks are few and often unsanitary, and items like hand sanitizer are often denied inside jails because of alcohol content (though New York found it appropriate to have prisoners make hand sanitizer for others). In crowded facilities, it is difficult to segregate people who may be at risk. Access to medical services is substandard in the best of times. Social distancing is basically impossible. For these reasons and others, we and many others have been sounding the alarm that prisons, jails, and detention facilities are a ticking time bomb for the spread of novel coronavirus/COVID-19. It is not a matter of if, but simply when it is introduced. Once it happens, conditions will lead to a rapid spread that puts lives at risks: those incarcerated, the people who work at these facilities, and the surrounding community.
What this means is that people must be released from incarceration, as many as possible, as quickly as possible. For those in prisons and jails, this means the elderly, those nearing the end of their sentences, and anyone else in an at-risk category. Officials should engage in a review of other individual cases so that people can be released into non-custodial monitoring, or simply released, depending on their original sentences. Finally, of the 2 million people incarcerated in this country, over 500,000 have not even been convicted of a crime yet. They are sitting in local jails simply for the inability to pay bail. They should all be released immediately.
Thus far, officials are limiting visitations, and some localities around the country are negotiating releases, including Prince George’s County in Maryland, Mecklenberg County Jail in Mississippi, Travis County in Texas, and others. However, large scale releases have not occurred yet. Within the Federal Bureau of Prisons system, visitations are also being denied and officials have laid out screening protocols. In all, these responses are insufficient as preventative measures and are putting hundreds of thousands of peoples lives at risk.
In immigration detention facilities, the context of incarceration mirrors what many others are facing in prisons and jails. They face the same poor health systems and same unsanitary conditions. There is a difference, however.
People in immigration detention facilities are not there because they have committed a crime. They are in civil detention while the government decides whether they can stay in this country, or if they must leave. As such civil detention is not supposed to be punitive in nature. While some people in detention may have been convicted of a crime before being placed in detention, in those cases they have already completed their sentences in domestic facilities- in many cases years prior to detention. They are only in detention now because the U.S. government decided that non-citizens with criminal records can be deported. Some others may have been picked up by law enforcement and may or may not have committed a crime, but were transferred to ICE before going to court. Which means, they are in detention solely because they do not have official authorization to be in the country - or could not prove it when arrested. Finally, MOST are in detention for reasons that have nothing to do with criminal actions (suspected or otherwise). They are simply waiting for the government to decide whether they can stay. Today, this includes 6,000 people seeking asylum who have already passed credible fear interviews and should, by ICE’s own regulations, be released.
Precisely because immigrant detention is civil, not criminal, detention, all of these people can be released at the discretion of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s administration. ICE will demure and say they are required to enforce the law. However, the law allows them discretion. Again, immigrant detention is NOT criminal detention! The fact that ICE announcements emphasize the number of criminals detained is a smokescreen to conflate immigration and criminality in the public’s mind.
Importantly, the point is not that people in immigrant detention are more deserving of release than those in prisons and jails. To be clear, when we say #FreeThemAll, we mean it. The point is simply that the process requires no new authorizations. ICE can allow people to leave detention with a scheduled check-in at a future date, and can do this relatively quickly. They can save lives. The only impediment is the political posturing of this administration that maintains detentions as a means to deter others who might seek shelter in the United States.
We shared a tool kit from Detention Watch Network to help folks organize in their communities to demand the release of more people from detention. You can view that here. As before, we share some active, state based efforts, to FreeThemAll!
Florida ● Petition – Miami-Dade Community Call for Decarceration
Minnesota ● Petition – No One Is Sentenced to Die From Coronavirus – Emergency Recommendations for MN’s Incarcerated
Washington ● Petition – Endorse an Abolitionist Public Health: #COVID19mutualaid demands to DOC & Governor Inslee