March 23, 2020 at 12:10 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Immigration Equality demands ICE release detainees with HIV
River Correctional Center, a privately-run U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Ferriday, La., on Feb. 1, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Immigration Equality on Monday demanded U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement release detainees with HIV who are at increased risk for coronavirus.

Immigration Equality in a complaint it sent to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties notes the six men who are named as complainants are at higher risk for coronavirus, in part, because of inadequate health care that includes inconsistent access to antiretroviral drugs and a failure to adequately treat opportunistic infections. The men are currently detained at the Winn and Richwood Correctional Centers in Louisiana, IAH Secure Adult Detention Facility in Texas and La Palma Correctional Center in Arizona.

The complaint also notes Immigration Equality has received reports that indicate “a failure to provide information on COVID-19, including how to protect against transmission.”

“In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the continued detention of these individuals puts them at even graver risk,” reads the complaint. “As experts have noted, immunosuppressed individuals, like those with HIV, are at heightened risk of serious medical issues with COVID-19, including death. This is particularly troubling for people in detention where they are at even greater risk of transmission.”

All six complainants are asylum seekers who fled persecution based on their sexual orientation and HIV status.

Acting ICE Director Matthew Albence and Acting U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Mark Morgan are also named in the complaint. Both of their agencies fall under the Department of Homeland Security’s jurisdiction.

Immigration Equality is among the myriad groups that have urged ICE to release from its custody people with HIV/AIDS and other detainees who are at heightened risk for coronavirus.

Louisiana’s Ouachita Parish in which Richwood Correctional Center is located has four confirmed coronavirus cases. There are no confirmed cases in the state’s Winn Parish where Winn Correctional Center is located.

Arizona’s Pinal County in which La Palma Correctional Center is located has 16 confirmed coronavirus cases. There are no confirmed coronavirus cases in the county where the IAH Secure Adult Detention Facility is located.

ICE on its website says as of March 17 there were no confirmed coronavirus cases in any of its detention centers. A guard at a New Jersey jail tested positive for coronavirus last week, but officials said none of the 250 ICE detainees who are currently at the facility were exposed to the disease.

Visitation at all ICE detention centers has been suspended. Lawyers, lawmakers and/or members of their staff who visit an ICE detention center are now required to wear disposable gloves, marks and eye protection.

“The health, welfare and safety of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees is one of the agency’s highest priorities,” reads ICE’s website. “Since the onset of reports of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), ICE epidemiologists have been tracking the outbreak, regularly updating infection prevention and control protocols, and issuing guidance to ICE Health Service Corps (IHSC) staff for the screening and management of potential exposure among detainees.”

“ICE continues to incorporate CDC’s COVID-19 guidance, which is built upon the already established infectious disease monitoring and management protocols currently in use by the agency,” it adds. “In addition, ICE is actively working with state and local health partners to determine if any detainee requires additional testing or monitoring to combat the spread of the virus.”

An ICE spokesperson on Monday referred the Washington Blade to their agency’s coronavirus guidelines in response to a request for comment about Immigration Equality’s complaint.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Washington and the Northwest Immigrants Rights Project last week filed a federal lawsuit that calls for ICE to release detainees who are at high-risk for coronavirus. U.S. District Court Judge James Robart on March 19 ruled against them.

The Trump administration on March 20 announced the U.S. will not allow undocumented immigrants to enter the country from either Mexico or Canada. The announcement came hours before Mexico-U.S. and Canada-U.S. borders closed for 30 days in an attempt to stop the spread of coronavirus.

“Many of these individuals arrive with little or no identity, travel or medical documentation, making public health risk determinations all but impossible,” said Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf during the White House Coronavirus Task Force’s March 20 briefing. “It’s also important to note that the southern border would likely increase the strain on health systems in our border communities, taking away important and life-saving resources away from American citizens.”

Immigrant advocacy groups sharply criticized the new policy.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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