Keisha Rowe | Clarion Ledger | May 18, 2021

NATCHEZ, Miss. - A civil rights and liberties complaint has been filed against the Adams County Detention Center in Natchez after several immigrant rights groups claimed the facility is endangering the lives of detainees there by ignoring COVID-19 safety protocols.

In a letter sent Monday, several immigrants rights groups from Mississippi and Louisiana claim the New Orleans Immigration Customs and Enforcement Field Office is violating COVID-19 safety policies issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The letter claims that detainees at the facility are grouped in close quarters and aren't given access to basic necessities like soap, among other violations.

As a result, the facility has more than 300 active COVID-19 cases, the worst outbreak in the nation among ICE detention centers, the letter states.

“ICE is knowingly spreading COVID-19 through facility transfers and even abroad with continued deportations,” Lorena Quiroz, director of the Immigrant Alliance for Justice and Equity, said in a news release. “Nearly 15 months into the pandemic, it’s clear that this agency’s callous indifference toward the well-being of the Black and Brown immigrants under its custody is needlessly causing infections and deaths.”

The letter was sent to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies. The Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi and 12 other organizations also signed onto the letter.

According to the SPLC, COVID-19 cases at ICE detention facilities have spiked over the past several weeks and may soon surpass 3,000 total cases. At least nine people have died at the facilities as a result of coronavirus complications, officials said.

Detainees at the Adams County facility have previously claimed cases of abuse at the facility in November, including physical assault and being blasted with pepper spray. Officials at the detention center denied the allegations.

Amelia McGowan, director of Immigration Law at the Mississippi Center for Justice, said the Biden administration is unnecessarily placing lives at risk by continuing to hold people at detention centers across the country.

“The call has never been more clear or more urgent," she said. "The administration must heed the calls of immigrants in detention, the calls of public health experts and epidemiologists, the calls of communities and advocates and free every last person from ICE detention.”