This week, our team released a report highlighting the importance of decarceration to prevent continued COVID-19 surges among people held in ICE detention.
Our report, which uses statistical modeling estimating the frequency of contact among individuals in detention, detention center staff, and members of surrounding communities, shows that even if case rates in surrounding counties are low and no detained person is infected with COVID-19, a single infection brought in from the local community by a staff member can trigger a significant outbreak inside.
This finding is particularly critical as ICE continues to arrest and detain increasing numbers of people, filling its detention centers and increasing the risk of continued outbreaks. Over the past two months, the number of individuals in held immigrant detention has grown by more than 200 per day. After reaching a historic low earlier this year, the total number of people in ICE custody has nearly doubled, rising from 14,000 to 27,000 people detained in just a few months. According to the New York Times, the 7,500 new COVID-19 cases that have been reported since April alone amount to more than 40 percent of all the cases ICE has reported throughout the pandemic.
The positivity rate among those in ICE custody is already high, but it appears to be growing even higher rapidly. Since February, the COVID-19 positivity rate among those in ICE custody has doubled. The rate of new cases in the past two weeks among people held in ICE detention is now more than 50 times that of the national population as a whole.
The report’s findings also challenge unproven claims made by anti-immigrant groups and politicians, most recently Senator Ted Cruz, that migrants are bringing COVID-19 into the country. Rather, our report suggests that ICE itself, by continuing to maintain facilities with such high population levels, is spreading the virus among those in its custody and is itself likely responsible for elevated infection rates. By continuing to introduce more and more people into its detention centers, the agency is continuing to create conditions that present a significant risk of rapid spread inside its facilities, even where surrounding communities have made progress in keeping case numbers low.
As the Delta variant causes new outbreaks in prisons, now is the time for more transparency, not less
Over the past two months, more and more carceral agencies have taken their COVID-19 data dashboards offline or reduced the amount of information they report concerning the health of the people who live and work in their prisons.