Immigration Justice Campaign is an initiative of American Immigration Council, American Immigration Lawyers Association.

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Stories from Detention Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

Justice Campaign volunteers are fiercely advocating for the release of vulnerable individuals from the unsafe conditions of ICE detention – where social distancing is impossible and medical care woefully inadequate. Read the personal accounts from individuals who are fighting for release and the volunteers who are helping them. Want to help? Volunteer today or send a message to your member of Congress.

“For washing your hands, there is just a shared cloth towel that is disgusting. There are a couple of bars of soap sitting out there for people to share, but it’s gross and people don’t want to touch them. I buy my own soap from commissary, so I don’t have to use the shared soap, but for some people that’s all there is. There’s no hand sanitizer, not even to buy in the commissary. I try to clean to avoid the virus, but I’m afraid it doesn’t work. I try to clean my bunk and the wall that my bunk is against. I clean it with a rag and a watered-down chemical solution. The rags are shared. No matter how careful I am, I still have to touch shared surfaces and pass very close by to others all day long. I am 51 and my health hasn’t been the same since my cancer. I lost approximately 20 pounds during my first few months in ICE detention.”
Client detained in Mesa Verde ICE Processing Center

“On the day of my court, almost 20 days after we protested, there were two pods in quarantine here in Otero County Processing Center because of coronavirus. Still, the officials did not give us masks or gloves. They never checked our temperature and I saw other peers with fevers and other flu symptoms. In our pod, there are 50 of us and we cannot social distance.”
Client detained in Otero County Processing Center

“Since [officer] wasn’t wearing gloves, I told him that he should set the example for sanitary conditions and wear gloves. Because of this, he accused me of being the one that put together the hunger strike, so he went with [another officer] so they could put together a story and declare against me. Three hours later they processed me and sent me to solitary confinement.”
Client detained in the El Paso Service Processing Center

“[The staff] come and tell us that the news is fake and everything is a lie. They tell us that Univision and Telemundo are fake news…They tell us nothing is happening and not to pay attention to the news or anything. The officials change the channel when we are watching the news. Once they came and gave a presentation and said that everything was under control. They said that everything was a lie. That the virus wasn’t happening. I said that people are dying and this is not a game.”
Client detained in the Houston Contract Detention Facility

“Every day I am more worried because of the pandemic. I have heard that people here have coronavirus. This last week they filled the pods with people and once again we cannot maintain a distance. There’s now 50 people in the pod.”
Client detained in the Eloy Detention Center

“Today I am wearing a surgical paper mask. This is the second face mask that core Civic gives us. The other face mask was also made from surgical paper and we had to use it for fifteen days. I do not know how long I will have to use this face mask. I am worried because the material on the face mask cannot be cleaned.”
Client detained in La Palma Correctional Facility

“There is no hygiene, I was with 23 women in a barrack and we all shared 3 phones, 2 showers, and 3 bathrooms. We were all touching all the same things and had nothing to clean them with. The bathrooms were especially dirty, there were mosquitoes and bugs everywhere and no cleaning supplies so you just had to put up with it. I have health problems, but I was never brought to see a doctor or a specialist during my detention. Only nurses attended to me, and the medicine I was given was not good. Even to see a nurse you had to make a request and they told you that they had 72 hours to attend to you. We heard that there were people with coronavirus in isolation cells…we heard that one woman had collapsed on the floor but the nurses and guards wouldn’t go near her because she had coronavirus. They just simply are not equipped to take care of people.”
Client detained in Irwin County Detention Center

“The most worrisome thing is that the officials come in and out every day. When they go to the quarantined room they put on masks but don’t wear them in our room, and don’t wear gloves. I recently turned 35. It is uncommon to see men who are normally macho crying, desperate. We don’t have resources, anyone to help us. We see people on the news dying who are free and have access to medical care. If they are dying how can we survive? If a guard comes in with COVID, we can all die.”
Client detained in Joe Corley Detention Facility

“Yesterday, they removed 7 guys from our room because they had high fevers. Those men have not returned. We are all scared. We are here unprotected, with no masks, no gloves. We ran out of soap and they said they don’t have more. They give us some wet wipes every once in a while. We have 15 inches between our cots, 31 bunk beds, in one large room.”
Client detained in Stewart Detention Center

“Within Elizabeth Detention Center, 12 women are all detained in one room, sharing one sink. There is no way to observe social distancing despite the fact that 7 people detained at Elizabeth have been diagnosed with COVID-19 as well as one corrections officer. The women have no masks or gloves to protect themselves. There is no hand sanitizer available to any of the women. They have been provided with a disinfectant spray and soap to wash their hands, but nothing more. My client reported being told that if she were to be diagnosed with COVID, she would be sent to the hospital and then placed in solitary confinement. Her fear of being placed in solitary confinement is such that she feels discouraged from seeking medical assistance. She said that there is a general atmosphere of fear among the women. Additionally, she is able to overhear other women conducting phone calls with their attorneys and worries that her legal conversations can similarly be overheard by corrections officers.”
Alex Washington

Pro Bono Attorney

“CoreCivic has taken people out on a stretcher, in reality the doctor doesn’t see people here until they are already in that state. There are people with congestion, with fever, with body aches. CoreCivic sees them and later says it was allergy. This makes me very afraid because the symptoms are those of COVID-19…I feel that my work in the kitchen is dangerous because there is no way to disinfect everything that I touch there…People who work there told me that they will take our boots and clothing if we don’t come to work. I am afraid because I suspect that some of the kitchen supervisors…were sick and I think they could have the coronavirus. I’m also suffering from great sadness and I can’t sleep anymore. We no longer have [access to] the library and only go out in the yard once a day at 5 in the morning. We spend all our time in the room. A friend told me that he thinks I have depression because I’m not the same, but I am afraid to speak about that here because what I have seen is that people that are depressed are only put in a room alone for many days and are observed. I had a friend at Eloy [my previous detention center] who asked for a counselor’s support but they only asked him if he wanted to kill himself and they locked him in a room for 12 days.”
Client detained at La Palma Correctional Facility in Eloy, Arizona

“I’ve spoken with individuals detained at both El Paso and Otero detention centers. They’ve shared with me they are in constant fear of getting sick. Many of them are in cells with 50 other individuals, many of them over the age of 55. They are in a state of despair knowing that once the virus has entered the detention center, they will be at risk of contracting it. They are unable to practice good hygiene while detained as they do not have access to enough soap. They receive one small soap each week, which is to be used as soap for washing hands and bathing. If they use up their soap for the week, they cannot get any more. So, many times, they forgo showers. Detained individuals have long described they are treated like animals in these detention centers. Now, they are afraid they will die there because ICE does not care about their lives. They should be released to their families and communities where they can be safe.”
Estrella Cedillo

Justice Campaign Fellow

“My client, who has lived in the United States for decades, is now in quarantine with pneumonia and other symptoms in the Essex County Correctional Facility in Newark, New Jersey. He has not yet been tested for COVID-19. He calls me as much as three times each day, desperate to help his mother and wife. His mother is a lawful permanent resident and emerged from brain surgery for a life-threatening aneurysm last month and has now been told that she needs another surgery soon. His American citizen wife suffered a heart attack and stroke while visiting relatives abroad a month earlier. She was in a coma for ten days and still cannot breathe on her own. Meanwhile, my client’s daughter, born here in the USA, wants to go to college and needs his help…. My client has had a lifelong tendency to bronchitis and pneumonia. Keeping him locked up risks his life–as well as grievous harm to the three women who depend on him in so many ways.”
Tom Gerety

Pro Bono Attorney