An Illinois congressman on Thursday said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement should release LGBTQ people in its custody as a matter of “basic human decency.”
Congressman Mike Quigley during a telephone interview with the Washington Blade criticized ICE’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, noting the agency is “ignoring” social distancing and other Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and not “providing protective gear or hygiene products to” detainees. The Illinois Democrat also said LGBTQ detainees in ICE detention centers “are treated worse in these conditions than the general population, and nobody is treated well.”
“Now, more than ever, what we’ve seen in other correctional facilities across the country is particular people who do not pose a threat are being released, or they are being released under alternative forms of detention and that’s all we’re calling for,” said Quigley. “It’s an issue of basic human decency and I think they need to do this across the board.”
Quigley in a letter he sent to Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf on Tuesday said “detaining LGBTQ asylum seekers, especially in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic, is dangerous and irrational.”
The letter, which Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and more than two dozen other members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed, also cites the case of Yanelkys Moreno Agramonte, a lesbian asylum seeker from Cuba who remains in ICE custody at the South Louisiana ICE Processing Center in Basile, La.
Moreno, according to the letter, said she and other detainees at the facility did not have access to toilet paper or soap for nine days. The letter also notes “social distancing is impossible in Ms. Moreno-Agramonte’s sleeping quarters and detention staff are not required to wear masks despite the extremely close quarters and rapid spread of the virus.” (Editor’s note: Yariel Valdés González, a Blade contributor from Cuba who was in ICE custody for more than 11 months until his release from the River Correctional Center in Ferriday, La., on March 4, interviewed Moreno and her partner, Dayana Rodríguez González, this week.)
“She’s experienced shortages of sanitation … nine days without toilet paper or soap,” Quigley told the Blade. “What the hell are we?”
“We don’t want to lose lives to this,” he added.
Media reports indicate two ICE detainees have died from the coronavirus since the pandemic began.
There were 801 ICE detainees with confirmed coronavirus cases as of Wednesday. ICE on its website also notes 5,096 detainees have been tested.
There were 24,713 people in ICE custody as of June 6.
A federal judge in California in April ordered ICE “to identify and track all ICE detainees with risk factors” and consider whether they should be released. Advocacy groups continue to urge ICE to release transgender people, detainees with HIV and others who are more susceptible to the coronavirus.
ICE in April released four gay men with HIV who were detained in Louisiana and Arizona.
Two gay Cuban men with HIV who Immigration Equality represent were released from a privately-run ICE detention center in Texas on April 30. Immigration Equality also represents Moreno.
“They’re treated poor, they are already in a horrible situation and in the pandemic ICE isn’t doing their job to keep people safe and frankly that puts their people, their workers at risk as well as well as everybody else in the general population,” Quigley told the Blade.
ICE on Thursday did not comment on Moreno’s case.
Wolf in April said ICE would consider the release of detainees at heightened risk for the coronavirus on a “case-by-case basis.”
An ICE statement notes it has released more than 900 detainees “after evaluating their immigration history, criminal record, potential threat to public safety, flight risk and national security concerns.” It also says there are more than 7,000 fewer detainees in ICE custody than there were on March 1.
“This same methodology is currently being applied to other potentially vulnerable populations currently in custody and while making custody determinations for all new arrestees,” reads the statement. “Additionally, ERO (Enforcement and Removal Operations) has had reduced intake of new detainees being introduced into the ICE detention system coming from CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection), due to reduced numbers of apprehensions by CBP under immigration authorities. ICE’s detained population has steadily dropped by more than 7,000 individuals since March 1, 2020, as a result of the decrease in book-ins when compared to this time last year, combined with continued repatriations of illegal aliens.”
The statement notes ICE’s ERO in March “convened a working group between medical professionals, disease control specialists, detention experts, and field operators to identify additional enhanced steps to minimize the spread of the virus.” ICE on its website notes it provides detainees with soap for showering and handwashing and sanitizer.
“Everyday cleaning supplies such as soap dispensers and paper towels are routinely checked and are available for use,” says ICE’s website. “Detainees are encouraged to communicate with local staff when additional hygiene supplies or products are needed.”
Social visitation at ICE detention centers remains suspended.