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Still no verdict for migrant releases, even after third COVID-19 death in detention centers

It has been nearly three months since the Trump administration declared a COVID-19 emergency, yet cases in ICE detention centers continue to rise.

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On Monday, July 13, a federal judge ruled he will wait until next week to rule on whether migrant parents detained by ICE in family detention centers should be released, meaning hundreds of children and parents currently in custody could face separation on Friday.

The judge ruled this after a July 17 deadline made by a federal judge in California, for all children to be released from three of ICE’s family facilities in order to decrease exposure to the coronavirus.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus had already demanded the Trump administration “safely and swiftly” release all parents and children in detention centers following the California court order, but they saw no action until Monday’s delay in verdict.

Joaquin Castro and other Hispanic Caucus members even requested to meet with the CEOs of two private prison operators that manage the immigrant detention centers for the federal government, but the request has yet to be granted.

And now, a Mexican immigrant has died in a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility over the weekend, the third such recorded case according to ICE, and the first reported death since May.

Onoval Perez-Montufa was 51-years old when he died at a south Florida hospital, where he had been hospitalized for COVID-19 since July 1. According to ICE, Perez-Montufa died in their custody, after he reported having trouble breathing at the Glades County Detention Center in Florida. He tested positive on July 2.

He had just finished serving 12 years of a 20-year prison sentence from a 2008 cocaine conviction and was in custody at a federal medical center that holds detainees who need specialized medical and psychological care. 

In a statement released Monday, ICE said Perez-Montufa was subject to “mandatory detention,” a status meaning that due to his crimes, he was required to be detained no matter his medical condition or if he is at risk to contract COVID-19. 
 

Immigrants detained at ICE facilities are at a much greater risk of COVID-19 exposure due to tight living conditions and insufficient medical care while they are housed. Detainees are even at risk of being exposed through contact with infected facility employees and agents.

At just one Arizona ICE detention facility, nearly half of all employees have tested positive for COVID-19, reported NBC. And this is at just one facility, not part of the three family facilities in question.

In a testimony before Congress on Monday, the four largest ICE detention centers – including the contractors the Hispanic Caucus requested to meet with– admitted over 880 of their employees have tested positive for the virus so far. 

According to ICE, 45 of its direct staff members have tested positive, as well as nearly 3,200 immigrants who tested positive for coronavirus while in its custody. This is out of nearly 22,580 detainees currently in ICE custody.

 

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