We have to get these medically vulnerable people out of ICE detention. Now.
By Vanessa Stine
With each passing day of Pennsylvania’s reopening during the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s easier to believe that the worst of this public health crisis is behind us. The bustle of restaurants, bars, and retail shops seems to grow each day. Fewer people seem to be wearing masks out in public or practicing social distancing.
But the hard truth is that the virus hasn’t gone anywhere and continues to surge in many parts of the country.
Over the past months, there has been wide reporting about the spread of the virus in places where social distancing is nearly impossible, like nursing homes and meatpacking plants. But in recent weeks, as some jails and prisons have started to ramp up testing for the virus, five detention centers have emerged as the biggest concentration of infections in the nation.
For people in civil immigration detention in Pennsylvania, the situation is particularly dire. There is little to no testing, so the spread of the virus continues with little documentation, until people show symptoms, get sick, or die. The nature of these detention centers prevent those in detention from practicing social distancing. Instead, they are packed into dorms of 50 to 70 people, or in small, cramped cells. People regularly run out of basic items like soap and are forced to reuse flimsy cloth masks for weeks on end.
For people with underlying health conditions, or for people who are older, they face a significant and ongoing risk from continuing to be detained for civil immigration purposes. A recent study found that those who contract COVID-19 and have underlying health conditions are twelve times more likely to die than patients without underlying health conditions.
That’s why the ACLU of Pennsylvania is in federal court this week, arguing for a classwide injunction that would immediately release from ICE custody medically vulnerable people from immigration detention in Clinton, Pike, and York…