More than 4,000 doctors are urging U.S. Immigration and Customs officials to release individuals and families from immigration detention due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Doctors fear a wave of new infections will explode into communities around ICE detention centers. ICE began testing detainees in February. So far, more than half of those detainees tested positive for the virus. Last week, Carlos Escobar-Mejia, a 57-year-old man, died in the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego, where 147 detainees have been infected.
“Every day that passes the situation is more urgent,” said Dr. Ian Kim, a family physician in Sacramento, and one of the doctors who signed an open letter urging ICE to release its detainees. “There’s a lot of evidence that these ICE detention centers are incredibly bad at preventing infectious disease,” he said.
In 2018, ICE medical staff detected five cases of the mumps at two Texas detention facilities. Those cases spread to 57 detention facilities in 19 states. Kim said the danger of large scale transmission is exacerbated by the frequent movement of detainees among different facilities, and by guards who go in and out of the detention centers every day. “The vulnerable people held in those facilities will get sick, some of them will die. And not only that, but the staff who work there will also contract these infections, go home to their families and their communities,” he said.
At the Mesa Verde Detention facility near Bakersfield, California, a group of inmates gathered in front of a web camera to send out a plea for help. “I wanted to bring it out to the public and let them see what’s really happening.