While the U.S is pushing citizens to get vaccinated, these efforts are not extended to ICE detainees.
( Patrick Feller // Creative Commons )
With over 162.2 million people fully vaccinated, businesses reopening and COVID-19 restrictions being lifted, the general population is returning to a new version of normalcy. But for others, the pandemic rages on: namely immigrants held in detention centers who are victims of a major surge in coronavirus cases.
Although we may feel as if we’re living in a post-pandemic period, this rushed and risky return comes at a cost that we may not directly see. The number of immigrants in ICE detention centers has steadily inched close to pre-pandemic levels, making it impossible to control the spread amongst unvaccinated individuals. Low living standards like lack of medical attention, crowded spaces and unhygienic areas also further contribute to rising COVID-19 cases.
In the month of April, 14,000 people were in detention centers, while in mid-June, that number almost doubled to 26,000. As this number jumped, over 7,500 people tested positive for COVID-19. Immigrant rights groups have complained that certain ICE facilities have not provided detainees access to basic necessities as simple as soap. Refugees have additionally reported that guards have not been wearing masks and ignore those pleading for medical assistance.
Even though ICE claims that it follows CDC protocols, many instances debunk these claims. According to a U.S. Office of Inspector General report, a Mississippi ICE center didn’t enforce social distancing or masks and lacked medical care. The report also showed one event where a detainee complained of chest pain and requested medical attention. ICE officials escorted him to the medical unit, believed there was nothing wrong and eventually released him from medical care. Just after though, he suffered a heart attack and was later pronounced dead.
The lack of urgent medical care and the inability to provide an appropriate response time to detainees are just two of many examples that illustrate ICE’s negligence and carelessness.
This person was not a detainee, someone ‘illegal’ and not just someone trying to cross the border. They were someone trying to find a better life. They were a family member; and at the end of it all, a human being.
As we hear these difficult stories, we have to remind ourselves that these are people escaping life-threatening, difficult situations. Leaving your home country is not easy. And it's even harder to come to a country where we have an agency that dehumanizes immigrants and fails to provide them basic human rights.
While the highly contagious Delta variant continues to spread, the minimal efforts to vaccinate people who are detained are failing and conditions are inevitably worsening.
ICE blames vaccine skepticism for low vaccination rates. A report showed that one-third of detained immigrants are refusing to get vaccinated. And while ICE uses vaccine hesitancy as an excuse for rising cases within detention centers, their refusal often stems from a warranted distrust in medical authorities as well as a lack of information about the vaccine in their native language. Not to mention, ICE doesn’t even have a plan to vaccinate immigrants.
Unfortunately, these actions fall perfectly in line with ICE’s history of neglect. The government and ICE’s lack of efforts toward the vaccine, or any form of solid medical attention for immigrants, is rooted in America’s indifference about their wellbeing.
Court filings show that Biden Administration lawyers believe ICE cannot deliver vaccines because they argue that they do not not have medical authority over detention centers that are not staffed by its Health Service Corps. Instead, President Biden has been deferring the administration of vaccines to state and local authorities - where the push to vaccinate immigrants is little to none. This delineation of power then allows ICE to avoid taking initiative to protect immigrants.
As the Delta variant spreads , Florida is leading in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the nation. The United States is also seeing a rise in deaths and hospitalizations - especially for those who are unvaccinated.
With this in mind, people detained within these facilities are more at risk than ever before.
Despite the Biden administration claiming a new compassionate form of leadership - it’s obvious that this sympathy, care and understanding is not extended towards immigrants. And like Biden, ICE has only proved itself to be unethical, cruel and unfeeling toward immigrants.