EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Nearly 30 organizations and government officials are calling for U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release detained migrants in response to the spread of COVID-19.
But first they need support from community leaders.
Advocates from Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, Annunciation House, the ACLU and more appealed to the heads of University Medical Center, the El Paso City-County Health Department, Doña Ana Health and Human Services, and Otero County Healthcare Services on the health and human rights violations faced during the pandemic.
On Tuesday, ICE said it may only release people from detention considered to be especially vulnerable to the coronavirus.
The advocates sent an open letter to request a coordinated effort to release detained migrants.
“We must work in an engaged and coordinated manner — with ICE and CBP at the table — to release those held in detention, secure the orderly release of these persons, and uphold public health,” urged the letter.
The advocates reached out to city leaders following a lack of information, protocols, and transparency from CBP and ICE regarding the health and well-being of detained migrants that also affect agents and their families.
According to the open letter, “[CBP and ICE’s] apparent decision to continue mass detention puts everyone in our El Paso-Las Cruces-Alamogordo region at risk, threatening to overwhelm our local healthcare capacity.”
Recently, CBP announced the agency will not release information to the public on whether any staff has contracted COVID-19.
There are about 17,000 CBP agents along the southern border, a few of whom have spoken to KTSM on background about the lack of policies designed to protect them and the detainees, as well as a gross lack of PPE.
As of Monday, CBP confirmed 160 cases of COVID-19 cases among its agents and officers, 27 of whom are in border communities, four in El Paso.
On March 26, three immigrant children detained in New York tested positive for COVID-19.
According to an ICE spokesperson, no cases of COVID-19 cases had been reported (as of March 26).
But the accuracy of the reported numbers are under scrutiny as the access to health care for immigrants in government detention are unclear.
Human Rights Watch, an organization that focuses on social justice issues and abuses, “is driving asylum seekers to stay in unhygienic camps and shelters in Mexican border cities where they are at heightened risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus.”
Like the advocates and the public, agents also have questions they want answered.
“How would a detainee receive proper medical care if they displayed symptoms of infection under expedited processing?“
“Are there protocols for mandatory reporting for officers and agents?“
“How is no one on the same page?“