FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MISSISSIPPI - The ACLU of Mississippi sent a letter today to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Field Office Director Diane L. Witte demanding that she provide vaccine access to the immigrants detained at the Adams County Detention Center. The American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and Acting Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement Tae Johnson making a similar demand for the more than 22,100 people in ICE custody nationwide. Additionally, ACLU affiliates in eight other states — Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas — sent similar letters to their local ICE field directors as well.
“At least 586 detained people having contracted COVID-19 at the Adams County Detention Center, making it the site of one of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks in ICE detention facilities nationwide. Additionally, the lack of transparency from ICE about the number of people detained and vaccine protocols leaves us confident that medical neglect is happening behind the detention center doors. With half of the country now vaccinated, it is unacceptable for COVID-19 outbreaks to continue to spread in detention centers,” said Delana Tavakol, SMART Justice Advocate at the ACLU of Mississippi.
“Over the course of the pandemic, ICE detention facilities have been some of the worst hotspots for the spread of COVID-19, with positivity rates five times greater than prison and 20 times greater than the general U.S. population,” said Eunice Cho, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “Despite this clear, irrefutable evidence of the high risk of COVID-19 to detained people, ICE staff, and surrounding communities, the agency still has no clear plan to ensure that people in detention can be vaccinated. Our government can and must ensure all detained people have access to the vaccines, and quickly.”
The letter reads: “ICE’s failure to ensure a coordinated strategy for vaccination continues to endanger people in detention nationwide. ICE’s COVID-19 plan has left it to individual detention facilities to “contact their state’s COVID-19 vaccine resource...to obtain vaccine.” This vaccination approach, however, has led to widespread failure. While more than 60 percent of adults in the United States have received at least one dose of a vaccine, the vast majority of people in ICE detention have yet to receive a dose. As of May 7, 2021, less than seven percent of ICE detainees nationwide had received COVID-19 vaccines. As one court has noted of ICE’s failed vaccination policy, “the fact that the federal government has not adopted a plan to insure that they are vaccinated runs counter to the science. Further, it defies common sense given the fact that the United States has a surplus of vaccines and, in fact, plans to export 80 million doses this summer.”
The ACLU is also demanding ICE to provide linguistically and culturally appropriate education materials; ensure people who have declined vaccination are regularly reoffered the vaccine and the opportunity to speak with a medical provider; ensure people can receive the vaccine within 48 hours of request; make arrangements for a second dose for all people who are released and/or transferred after their first dose.
Fiscal Year 2020 was the deadliest year in ICE detention in 15 years, but — as a recent report from the ACLU pointed out — the number of deaths due to COVID-19 was likely higher than the agency reported due to the undercounting of people who died after they were released to the hospital. During the pandemic, there were also reports of increased use of force, solitary confinement, patterns of sexual abuse, forced sterilizations, and an utter failure to protect people from COVID-19.
In April, the ACLU sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, calling for the shut down of 39 ICE detention facilities, as well as a commitment to let the people who were released during the pandemic to remain free. The administration announced that it would close two of the facilities named in that campaign — Irwin County Detention Center and Bristol County Sheriff’s Office — last week.