According to data released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 21 people died in ICE custody in the fiscal year 2020, which ended on Wednesday. This is the highest death toll since 2005, and is more than double the amount of deaths that occurred in the fiscal year 2019. More than a third of these people had tested positive for COVID-19. Since the pandemic began, there have been over 6,100 confirmed COVID cases among detainees.
ICE maintains that deaths in its custody occur at a “small fraction of the national average for detained populations” and that the health, safety and welfare of detainees is taken seriously. Immigrant rights advocates would disagree. Silky Shah, the executive director of Detention Watch Network, asserted “We’re seeing the pandemic is playing a role – but also the conditions of detention, and what it does both to your mental health and the really poor medical care that exists inside…As we’re looking at this death toll going up, what it tells us is…it’s a system that shouldn’t exist. People should be with their loved ones, with their families, being able to social distance and quarantine at home going through their immigration proceedings…They shouldn’t be locked up.”
Fewer people are being detained by ICE on average, with detention facility populations decreasing from 50,165 (last year) to 19,791 as of September 25. Still, this news comes only two and a half weeks after the story broke regarding forced hysterectomies in an ICE facility in Georgia. And last week, a congressional investigation found that immigrants in ICE custody died after inadequate medical care and mistreatment.
The facility with the most deaths this year is in Lumpkin, Georgia, one of America’s largest immigrant detention centers. Another advocate, Amilcar Valencia, was not shocked by the large death toll, and stated, “it raises lots of alarms when three people have died…Just from the public health perspective, the detention center is putting at risk a lot of people just by having people detained there – all the population inside, all the workers, everyone in the county is at higher risk because we have this detention center in South Georgia”.
Media Resources: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, CNN 9/30/20, Feminist Newswire 9/15/20, CNN 9/24/20