Major coronavirus infections are being reported at U.S. immigration centers, where there has been an almost twofold increase in the number of migrants and an increase in border apprehensions.
The New York Times reports that more than 7,500 coronavirus cases were reported at the centers between April and last week. This comes while the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency claims that over 26,000 people were being held in its centers last Wednesday, compared with 14,000 in April.
According to public health officials, fewer than half of the immigrants living in these centers have been vaccinated against COVID-19. They also claim that facilities with high populations are more susceptible to the spread of disease.
According to an analysis by the New York Times, more than 40% of cases in ICE facilities reported since the outbreak of the pandemic are new cases.
The nation’s prisons and jails were major outbreak centers last year. One in three prisoners in federal and state facilities tested positive for the virus. This is because the conditions in these facilities are crowded and close-knit.
According to ICE’s most recent data, less than 20% of detainees who came through immigration centers had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccination.
Dr. Carlos Franco Paredes, an associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, stated that the centers do not follow COVID-19 safety protocols. He has also inspected the centers during the pandemic.
“There is minimal to no accountability regarding their protocols,” said Franco-Paredes, who observed, during a recent inspection at a facility in Aurora, Colo., that many staff members were not wearing masks properly. In addition, insufficient testing and lack of care during detainee transfers between facilities are causing problems, he said.
Meanwhile, ICE spokeswoman Paige Hughes said all new detainees are tested for the virus and are being held in quarantine for 14 days when they come into the United States.
“On-site medical professionals are credited with reducing the risk of further spreading the disease by immediately testing, identifying, and isolating the exposed detainees to mitigate the spread of infection,” Hughes said.
However, public health officials say detainees are being transported by bus to facilities before they’re tested, and that they could be getting exposed while on the trip. Over the past year, prisons have also made the same error, leading to mass infections and deaths, The Times notes.
ICE officials stated that the policy of the agency leaves the decision to vaccinate detainees up to the state and local authorities, not the federal government.
ICE detention centers located in states with low vaccination rates have experienced some of the most severe outbreaks. This includes the Adams County Correctional Center, Natchez, Mississippi.
Officials at ICE stated that the agency’s policy was not to make decisions regarding vaccinating detainees. According to a Times database some of the most severe outbreaks have occurred in states with low vaccination rates.
Sharon Dolovich from the University of California Los Angeles’ Covid Behind Bars Data Project said that detainees will be vulnerable until vaccinations at ICE centers are given a higher priority.
“You have people coming in and out of the facility, into communities where incomplete vaccination allows these variants to flourish, and then you bring them inside the facilities, and that variant will spread,” she said. “What you’re describing is the combination of insufficient vaccination plus the evolution of the virus, and that is really scary.”