August 6, 2020 at 9:38 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
‘I don’t know if I will make it’
An American flag flies in front of a privately-run U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in the Southeast U.S. on July 31, 2020. A person with HIV who remains in ICE custody says he is afraid he will die from the coronavirus. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

A person with HIV who is in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody says they are afraid the coronavirus will kill him.

“With my condition, God forbid, if I get coronavirus, I don’t know if I will make it,” the ICE detainee told the Washington Blade on July 29 during an interview.

The detainee has been in ICE custody at a privately run detention center in the Southeast since last October. The detainee is originally from a country in Africa with laws that criminalize people with HIV and members of the LGBTQ community.

The detainee asked the Blade not to identify them by name to protect their privacy. They also requested the Blade not identify the country from which they originate and the facility in which they remain in ICE custody because of fear of retaliation and any potential impact their decision to speak publicly could have on their asylum case.

“It would be a death sentence if I were sent back home,” said the detainee.

The detainee told the Blade there have been coronavirus cases in their detention center, including a man from India who tested positive before his scheduled deportation.

“They were taking him out to deport him,” said the detainee. “They closed our unit down for a month.”

The detainee said there are 96 detainees in his unit. They told the Blade that ICE quarantined them after another detainee tested positive for the coronavirus.

“We were not able to leave the unit,” they said.

They told the Blade that staff brought food to the unit when it was locked down. The detainee said they are now able to access the yard for an hour a day.

‘It’s not safe’

ICE on its website notes as of Monday there were 908 detainees with confirmed coronavirus cases.

There were 21,888 people in ICE custody as of July 31. Statistics on ICE’s website note 21,085 detainees have been tested as of July 31.

Immigration Equality and Lambda Legal are among the advocacy groups that have demanded ICE release detainees with HIV because of the pandemic.

ICE in April released four men with HIV who had been detained at privately run detention centers in Louisiana and Arizona. ICE in the same month also released Iván and Ramón, two Cuban men with HIV represented by Immigration Equality and Lambda Legal, from a privately run detention center in Texas.

“We are relieved that Iván and Ramón don’t have to spend one more day in the dangerous conditions of ICE detention, terrified of contracting COVID-19,” said Immigration Equality Legal Director Bridget Crawford after their release.

A federal judge in California has ordered ICE “to identify and track all ICE detainees with risk factors” and consider whether they should be released.

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf in April said ICE would consider the release of detainees who are at increased risk for the coronavirus on a “case-by-case basis.” An ICE spokesperson a few weeks after Wolf’s comments said their agency had released upwards of 700 detainees “after evaluating their immigration history, criminal record, potential threat to public safety, flight risk and national security concerns.”

ICE in March suspended in-person visitation at its detention centers. ICE in previous statements says it continues to provide detainees with soap for showering and handwashing, sanitizer and masks.

“The health, welfare and safety of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees is one of the agency’s highest priorities,” says ICE on its 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,” adds ICE. “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.”

Illinois Congressman Mike Quigley in June told the Blade that ICE is “ignoring” social distancing guidelines from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and not providing “protective gear or hygiene products” to detainees. The detainee with whom the Blade spoke last week also said there is no socially distancing at the detention center where they are in ICE custody.

“There’s no such thing right now as socially distancing,” they said.

“It’s not safe,” added the detainee.

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

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