Inspector General to Assess ICE facilities for COVID-19 Practices

May 20, 2020 Updated: May 21, 2020

In response to reports that ICE detention facilities with confirmed cases of the CCP virus were operating without full procedures to protect both staff and detainees from the virus, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and her colleagues called for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) inspector general (IG) to conduct a full investigation.

Harris on Tuesday joined Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) in releasing a statement announcing that the DHS IG will conduct a review of U.S. ICE facilities.

Harris, Udall along with 24 other Democratic senators are asking the IG to evaluate the extent to which all ICE facilities’ “operations, management, standards, and conditions” have adapted to address the threat of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus—also known as novel coronavirus—to both the staff and detainees, such as having proper hygiene and personal protective equipment broadly available.

“This is an important step in halting the spread of COVID-19 in detention facilities,” said Harris. “The virus does not care about anyone’s age, race, or immigration status. We have a duty to protect every person from coronavirus and I’m eager for the DHS IG to share its assessment of ICE’s practices and procedures to protect these individuals.”

An ICE spokesperson told The Epoch Times in a written statement: “U.S. Immigration and Customs and Enforcement (ICE) cooperates fully with these investigations and appreciates the efforts of the DHS Office of Inspector General, whose reviews serve to help ICE improve our processes and ensure that our civil detention operations provide a safe and secure environment for both detainees and staff. The health, welfare, and safety of ICE detainees is one of the agency’s highest priorities.”

According to the ICE website, in-person visitations for detainees, by family members, have been temporarily suspended due to the pandemic but virtual meetings using technology are permitted. Legal representatives can still meet with detainees at ICE facilities, after going through full screening procedures.

“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.”

“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,” the website states.

In March, Harris along with her colleagues sent a letter to Chad Wolf, acting secretary of DHS, Matthew T. Albence, acting director of ICE, and Mark A. Morgan, acting Commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, to demand answers about how the ICE facilities were managing and preventing the spread of the virus among staff and detainees in these immigration facilities.

“There are currently nearly 39,000 individuals in U.S. immigration detention. In May 2019, ICE had detained over 52,000 individuals and the agency has requested capacity to detain 60,000 for FY2021,” the letter stated.

“In addition to detained persons, staff, medical personnel, and attorneys move in and out of immigration detention facilities every day.  As a result, the risk of the uncontained spread of coronavirus in immigration detention facilities endangers detained persons, staff, and the general public,” the senators added.