The coronavirus has forced law enforcement throughout the states to make serious changes. However, Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) pursuit of undocumented immigrants has carried on as usual. While some prisons are releasing nonviolent individuals in an attempt to reduce their populations and to curb the spread of the virus, some reports say ICE agents have increased their arrests.
Here are six things to know about ICE operations during the coronavirus outbreak:
1. There's a lawsuit aiming to free asylum-seekers from detention centers in the Deep South.
There are asylum-seekers in the South who have been detained by ICE and are at risk of contracting the coronavirus, Mother Jones reported.
The Southern Poverty Law Center and ACLU of Louisiana filed a request to a federal judge, demanding ICE to release non-threatening asylum-seekers from detention centers.
In the Emergency Motion for Preliminary Injunction, the lawsuit alleges that many of the class members present a high-risk vulnerability to the coronavirus. Of those at risk is a 50-year-old Cuban breast cancer survivor who has undergone multiple rounds of radiation and is currently experiencing spinal cord inflammation, which affects her nervous system.
According to medical experts, people over 50 years old and people with certain medical conditions are at an even higher risk of developing serious complications from the virus.
Since the beginning of March, the number of immigrants detained has increased by more than 700 people, totaling more than 38,000 people, Mother Jones reported.
“Class members risked their lives to escape persecution and torture in their home countries,” the lawsuit states. “These asylum-seekers now find themselves trapped in what has essentially become a ticking-timebomb and, for many, a tomb.”
2. The ICE detention center in New Jersey doesn't have soap, and some centers show a lack of preparedness.
Some of the detention centers used to detain immigrants have been reported as being unclean.
At Hudson County Correctional Facility in New Jersey, there's a lack of soap, which prompted those incarcerated to go on a hunger strike, ProPublica reported.
A federal judge in New York City ordered 10 New Jersey detainees to be freed upon learning they were at increased risk of complications from coronavirus due to underlying health conditions, Politico reported.
“The risk that petitioners will face a severe, and quite possibly fatal, infection if they remain in immigration detention constitutes irreparable harm warranting a [temporary restraining order],” District Court Judge Analisa Torres said.
“Respondents have exhibited, and continue to exhibit, deliberate indifference to Petitioners’ medical needs,” Torres said, criticizing ICE's lack of preparation for the coronavirus.
At the South Texas Processing Center, some ICE detainees are concerned about there being a lack of screening measures for newly incarcerated individuals, ProPublica reported.
3. There's conflict between detainees and guards in Texas and Louisiana.
Migrants and undocumented immigrants are fighting with ICE guards as tensions rise over safety concerns.
ProPublica reported there was a physical altercation at the South Texas Processing Center where guards let off pepper spray at the detainees, and nine individuals are now being held for disciplinary charges.
"There are at least four confirmed cases of immigrants in custody who have coronavirus, and five ICE facility employees who had tested positive — that was as of yesterday," Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said, according to The Hill.
A similar incident happened at the Pine Prairie detention center in Louisiana where ICE agents pepper-sprayed seven people, one of whom was wearing only his underwear, Mother Jones reported.
In some cases, there are demonstrations of peaceful protesting like New Jersey's previously mentioned hunger strike for soap.
"Immigrants are staging peaceful protests and hunger strikes to be released on concern for their life and subpar detention conditions," Castro said.
4. ICE is being called inadequate in Pennsylvania.
A federal judge in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, ordered 10 immigrants from various detention centers in the state to be released, stating that ICE hasn't adequately ensured their safety during the coronavirus pandemic, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
District Judge John E. Jones III ordered recognizance bonds for detainees from facilities in York, Clinton and Pike counties after reviewing the case lawyers with the ACLU of Pennsylvania provided.
“It would be heartless and inhumane not to recognize [the] petitioners’ plight,” Jones said. “Should we fail to [order their release] … we will be party to an unconscionable and possibly barbaric result.”
In a facility outside of Philadelphia, a 5-year-old immigrant girl from the Berks Family Residential Center was suffering from pneumonia-like symptoms when she went to a local hospital. Upon arriving back at the center, she was tested for the coronavirus before reuniting with her mother, Mother Jones reported.
The family is now suing ICE and is getting legal consultation from three nonprofit services specializing in helping immigrant families.
5. A kitchen aide at a women's detention center in Louisiana might secretly have the coronavirus.
Inside a South Louisiana ICE Processing Center near Lafayette, women have secretly recorded themselves giving warning signals, using posters, that a kitchen aide at the center has coronavirus-like symptoms, The Intercept reported.
One of the signs said, "A woman here with us is sick. She may have COVID-19."
"She has been detained for months here in South Lousiana. She's from Ecuador and she worked here in the kitchen," two other signs read.
The center is operated by private prison corporation GEO Group and has more than 400 women incarcerated.
Rosa Pino Hidalgo, one of the women who works in the kitchen, said that the Ecuadorian's dorm is being used for quarantine.
“They pass the food under the door. The guards are wearing a medical gown and other protection. They’re saying this quarantine is for the flu. We don’t believe them,” Hidalgo said.
6. ICE agents in New York City may have overstated how dangerous some immigrants are in order to detain them.
A New York City judge ruled, as required by law, there should be a review for incarcerated immigrants to seek individualized bonds, The Daily Beast reported.
District Judge Alvin Hellerstein, who issued the decision, questioned whether ICE is holding people unfairly in New York City and in other parts of the country.
ICE has been actively using an algorithm called Risk Classification Assessment to determine the risk of an immigrant. Yet, the New York Civil Liberties Union and Bronx Defenders said in a lawsuit in 2017 that ICE has changed its computerized tool to prevent it from recommending the release of certain people on bond.
“The federal government’s sweeping detention dragnet means that people who pose no flight or safety risk are being jailed as a matter of course,” the lawsuit stated.