Texan Health Professionals Call to Release People in ICE Detention Vulnerable to COVID-19
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Texas Senators and Representatives,
ICE Field Offices in Dallas, El Paso, Houston, and San Antonio,
We are healthcare professionals and trainees serving Texans during the COVID-19 crisis. We are appreciative for the vital public health measures and guidance that you have taken to protect Texans during this pandemic. We urge you to take action to ensure these same public health measures in the immigration detention facilities that form a part of our community. As COVID-19 continues to spread through our communities, we fear that conditions in detention facilities will endanger thousands of lives inside and outside of ICE detention facility walls, and potentially overburden nearby hospitals and health care systems during the pandemic.
We are extremely concerned about the spread of COVID-19 amid the detainees and staff across detention centers in Texas. In March, a staff member at a Houston contract detention facility tested positive for COVID-19. Since then, there have been 6 additional confirmed cases of COVID-19 among personnel working in ICE detention facilities, and 13 confirmed COVID-19 cases among detainees across the country. Already in the past, Texas ICE facilities have had outbreaks of infectious diseases in the past as a result of overcrowding and inadequate sanitation and health measures. As COVID-19 spread within detention facilities continues, and worsens, there must be mechanisms in place to ensure the safety of detainees and facility staff.
Additionally as health professionals, we see firsthand that fear of local ICE enforcement deters immigrants in our communities from seeking out medical care, which at this time means crucial COVID-19 testing and treatment. On March 18, ICE released a statement that it “will exercise discretion to delay enforcement actions until after the crisis or utilize alternatives to detention, as appropriate.” ICE must clarify how they will curb local enforcement practices so that our immigrant patients are not afraid of punitive measures if they access care.
As your constituents and as experienced health professionals, we urge you to:
● Release individuals detained in ICE custody before COVID-19 spreads further. ICE and CBP must work with local public health departments and health experts to coordinate release of 1) non-violent individuals and 2) individuals with underlying health conditions that put them at risk for COVID-19 in detention facilities
● Urge that ICE ensures its facilities implement 1) regular hand washing and showers with sufficient soap and hand sanitizer for detainees and staff, 2) protocols for COVID-19 testing, humane quarantine, and hospital transfer if an individual is exposed to the virus, and 3) reassignment of detainees to spaces to allow for physical distancing in line with public health expert recommendations.
● Clarify local immigration enforcement practices during the COVID-19 crisis, and halt operations that will be high risk for infection spread. ICE must 1) communicate steps it has taken to change its enforcement activities during the crisis, and 2) limit in-person enforcement exercises and check-ins that could pose high risk for COVID-19 community spread.
We believe these steps are crucial in Texas’ response to COVID-19, but actions cannot stop there. We also ask that there are accountability measures in place to ensure these steps are taken, such as regular inspections and collaboration with community partners and public health departments to oversee these changes. In order to best continue to care for our communities during this ongoing crisis, we must ensure and publicize widely in communities that immigrants do not need to fear repercussions if they seek out medical care for their illnesses. We are hopeful that Texan officials will take these necessary steps to slow COVID-19 spread, save lives, and prevent escalation of this public health emergency.
Doctors For Change, Immigrant and Refugee Health Committee
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