As the Presidential campaign has turned away from the traditional calendar of events, even postponing political ads following President Trump’s testing positive for COVID-19 has secured around the clock coverage — enhanced by his daily staged theatrics — many crucial issues are not getting a trickle of attention.
Among the most crucial: thousands of people remain in for-profit detention centers, and the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has confirmed a COVID-19 outbreak is spreading among them.
It’s speculated that the virus was initially brought into the facility at Adelanto by those coming from outside the facility. State prisoners are currently being transferred into Adelanto, which is further increasing the risk to migrant detainees. Immigrant rights organizations have appealed to Governor Newsom to stop the transfers from prisons.
“When people are being transferred from state prisons to detention centers, you have a perfect recipe for seeding new outbreaks of COVID-19 where they didn’t previously exist,” said Minju Cho, an attorney with the ACLU of Southern California.
It’s only a matter of time before this ticking time bomb becomes a lethal situation.
The ACLU recently filed a Temporary Restraining Order seeking an emergency status conference and immediate rapid testing to determine the true extent of the outbreak.
The “Shut Down Adelanto Coalition” is calling for the release of those being detained at the facility. In a news release, the coalition described the confinement of immigrants at Adelanto as “torture, inhumane and violent.”
“Immigrants detained in these facilities are being subjected to cruel punishment and inhuman treatment for the mere act of seeking to migrate,” said Armando Carmona, a member of the coalition.
“Since March and the beginning of lockdown orders due to the pandemic, the Shut Down Coalition has called on their release.”
Detainees Send Letter Pleading for Help
James Potter, a paralegal with the Global Law Office in Diamond Bar, received a letter signed by several people detained at Adelanto.
“All of the people who signed the letter have been infected by COVID,” said Potter, who noted that four of the signatures came from immigrants from China.
Potter has outreached to media to distribute the letter. Translated from Chinese, the letter reads:
“From those detained at Adelanto: Even though we are without status, we have the right to life. Hope this feeble call will let God be touched and be known. Thanks the Lord.”
Potter said those who signed the letter tested negative for COVID-19 before entering the facility and now they are all positive and are very worried. Those who have signed the letter have also included their identification numbers assigned to them.
A Hot Bed For Spreading the Infection
The coalition called the detention centers, typically located in rural areas across the country where it’s easier to get permits to approve them, a “hot bed of infection” with as many as 5,000 people testing positive for the virus since February.
Of those figures, it’s not known with certainty how many people have died from COVID-19.
“I have spoken with clients who told me that they complained to medical staff of cough, chills, sore throat, chest pain, weakness, and other symptoms,” said Margaret Hellerstein, an attorney with the Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project.
“My clients were told that their illness was the result of poor air quality and that they should gargle with salt. They were finally tested after suffering for days,” she said.
Protests Continue At Adelanto
This week a car caravan protest was held outside the for-profit detention facility owned by GEO, located in the high desert community.
“This outbreak is further proof that ICE and the Trump Administration have zero regard for human life. Whether forcibly removing women’s uteruses or refusing medical treatment to those with COVID-19, no detainee is safe in immigration custody,” said Munmeeth Son, director of litigation and advocacy at the Immigrant Defenders Law Center.
“What ICE is doing to detainees is nothing short of criminal. We must put an end to ICE and end immigration detention once and for all,” Son said.
The coalition contends that attorneys have been denied access to confidential calls with their clients in locked-down dorms, while GEO staff at Adelanto refuse to provide any information as to which dorms are on lockdown, how many individuals are affected, and what is being done to protect them.
“Despite countless calls to free people from detention, amid the rising rates of COVID-19 infection by thousands of professionals and advocates, ICE has done nothing. Now, more than ever, we see the importance of ending this arbitrary and inhumane system of detention,” said Marcela Hernandez, organizer with Detention Watch Network.
The Shut Down Adelanto Coalition is also urging Congress to cut funding to ICE and the US Customs and Border Protection, and redirect resources to support public health efforts.
The Shut Down Adelanto Coalition is made up of several organizations, including the Inland Empire Coaltion for Immigrant Justice, Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights, Clergy & Laity United for Economic Justice, Freedom for Immigrants, Detention Watch Network, Never Again Action, Los Angeles, Immigrant Defenders Law Center, Bend the Arc Jewish Action, Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project, Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coaltion, Nikkei Progressives, and others.