Immigration Detention Facilities Could Become Coronavirus Hot Spots
Speaker 1: 00:00 Immigration detention centers could become Corona virus hotspots. So far there have been no confirmed cases of Corona virus in these detention centers in California, but some civil rights groups this week filed an emergency ruling to force ice, immigration and customs enforcement to step up its efforts to protect vulnerable detainees. KPBS reporter max Lynn Nadler's spoke with immigration attorney Dorian Edgar Seto about conditions inside the center amid the Corona virus pandemic. Speaker 2: 00:32 Since the beginning of the Corona virus or the rumblings of of that there was going to be this global health emergency. What have you seen in terms of precautions that have been being taken for those in ice custody? I'm leading up to this. Speaker 3: 00:50 Um, so the progressions have been fairly inconsistent across facilities. Every detention center that's run by ice, um, is, has different roles, um, even across companies. So there are a few, um, large private prison companies that run many different detention centers across the country. But even though they're part of the same umbrella company, um, each of the facilities has its own process, its own rules. It's unregulated and its own relationship with a local ice office. And this is true nationally and also locally to Southern California is that every, every facility where I have clients that are to attend the facilities have been taking different precautions. Speaker 2: 01:29 So let's take one a site in particular, the OTI Mesa detention center run by core civic over the past few weeks. What precautions have you seen being taken for people in detention there and, um, in terms of not only the people at detention but also guards and legal visitors? Speaker 3: 01:47 I have heard different things from different clients at Otay Mesa detention center in terms of safety precautions on the inside as is common in detention centers. Um, there is limited access to cleaning supplies. We've had clients report that although the facility does provide soap for free, which is not necessarily a guaranteed in immigration custody in many facilities, you do have to buy it from the condom. Sorry. Um, if you want, um, if you want look, so Inbar form, um, the, the, the housing units don't have consistent access to cleaning products like disinfectants. And many of our clients haven't really been told what's what's happening. Um, they have some, some notices have been posted about washing your hands, um, about trying to stay, um, about social distancing. Um, but nobody from the facility has really come to each housing unit and given people instructions or an update about what's happening across the world. Speaker 3: 02:41 Most people are getting all of their information from the news. Um, and many clients are worried because they're hearing from the news social distance, try not to be in groups of more than 10 people. And that's just absolutely impossible in the housing units that they are assigned to. Um, everybody shares rooms. Um, there's people are in enclosed spaces. There isn't consistent access to fresh air. Again, there's not consistent access to disinfectant products and so on. People are very, very concerned because they've had this lack of information from the people who are supposed to be making sure that they're safe coupled with this lack, with all of the stress and anxiety that all of us are, are hearing. I'm watching the news every night, um, and an inconsistent access to things like disinfected products. Um, and, and, and our clients aren't able to control their space. Right. Um, they are assigned to the housing unit that they're assigned to. They're assigned to the roommate that they're assigned to. And people who do want to practice social distancing, who are worried about their health, um, who have preexisting health conditions that make them uniquely vulnerable to particularly severe Covin 19, aren't able to take care of their health in the ways that they would, um, if they were given the opportunity to do so. So that's in terms of, that's what we've seen it inside. Speaker 2: 04:00 So how has this played out for people who are both doing legal visits and, um, the, the guards themselves? Speaker 3: 04:06 So, um, for people who are doing legal visits, um, the role is, has been changing every, every few days. Um, initially we were told that we were still able to do contact visits to get things like signatures that we needed for a client's cases. Um, that will was changed. And we're now at, so we're only allowed to do visits with people over these like video consoles. Um, and then any new paperwork we need signed, we have to hand to guards to give to our clients. And they handed that. However, um, the last time I was at [inaudible], which was several days ago, and this may have changed since, um, none of the guards had gloves. Um, the, the security officers were not practicing socialists and thing. Um, there were signs up in the facility encouraging people to do so. Um, but it looked very much like business as usual at the detention center except that we weren't able to do contact visits. Speaker 3: 05:01 And so I think that everybody in detention is rightfully concerned that, um, all of the people who need to be going in and out of detention just on an everyday basis to bring food delivery is to bring them mail, um, all of the security guards. So we're concerned as advocates of course, as attorneys, we want to do everything that we can to minimize the spread of [inaudible] 19 by us into detention. And so I'm happy to eliminate my contact with my clients, but we are concerned that the security officers that the ice officers and that all of the people who are going in and out of that facility on a daily basis, um, who are necessary to keep it running, um, that, that people, that people inside attention are at risk, um, from, from just that natural in and out and movement in facilities. Speaker 2: 05:47 Right. Because it's, it's less of a chance that it will be introduced into the facility by the detainees themselves. And then the people who are having constant contact with the community at large, bringing it in. Um, and does, does ice seem to be taking these precautions seriously or does it still acute pose a huge health risk for those in detention, especially considering, um, like as you said, that the situation itself and the environment itself is really conducive to kind of creating, um, the spread of this virus. Speaker 3: 06:22 So I can't speak to what ice has, uh, has instructed its contractors to do. Um, or what, for example, a company like course that because decided to do, in terms of its unemploy ease, I can speak to what they've asked attorneys to do, which is essentially instruct us to not visit the facility or come to courts that are inside detention centers without bringing our own personal protective gear. So, and 95 masks, I have protection and gloves. Um, as advocates where we are listening to the news, we're listening to our friends who are nurses, who are doctors, who are healthcare providers, um, who are struggling to get those basic safe, that basic safety equipment for themselves, um, as they treat people who are impacted by this virus. Um, in hospitals that we see that States are struggling to provide these basic necessities to health coworkers on the front lines of this pandemic. And so as advocates, we are concerned that ISOs asking us to choose between taking critical safety gear from healthcare professionals so that we can, um, work with our clients to defend them in their legal cases, which are also in many cases a matter of life and death. Speaker 2: 07:35 Ice has announced that it's taking a break for those on the non detained docket. That means people who are not in custody, but it has not paused in most places the detained docket. So these would be your clients, the people who are currently in custody. From an advocacy standpoint, is it better to keep moving forward with these cases so some people might be released or processed more expeditiously, or is it worth it to stop these processes right now so that you're not exposing more people to potential harm? Speaker 3: 08:05 I don't think it's a matter of saying let's just shut all of the courts or let's make sure that they keep on going. I think that there are a lot of things that the government could be doing right now to reduce the number of cases that need to go forward from detention and to facilitate representation that both honors people's constitutional rights to due process and our rights and our obligations as attorneys. Um, to comply with our ethical rules and to zealously represent our clients. Um, while also keeping mouth concerns in mind. Speaker 2: 08:37 What would be encouraging to see from ice during this time in terms of health measures and what's possible for a large organization like this that relies on a ton of private contractors to do during a global health pandemic? Speaker 3: 08:51 I think releasing everybody who they can is absolutely within their, I'm reducing the population, particularly identifying people who have preexisting conditions, who are uniquely vulnerable, people who are older, people who are immunocompromised, people who have a history of asthma or, or who are former smokers. Um, any of the many health conditions that health officials have been saying. These are the risk factors that make you uniquely vulnerable to very severe form of Coforge 19 and to possible death if you are exposed and contrasts a disease. So I S I it has the infrastructure and the facilities have the infrastructure to do medical screenings. Um, the deportation officers that are in charge of every individual case, um, have the ability to go through the list of people whose cases they are responsible for and identify people who are more at risk, who can be really released. Discretionarily, there are hundreds of immigration lawyers across the country who have been filing release requests, um, to, to ice officials, including the national immigrant justice center. Speaker 3: 09:56 We've filed a number of release requests, um, for our clients to attend and facilities across the country. So I think responding to those quickly, adjudicating them and implementing alternatives to attention, letting people out, that doesn't mean that you're letting people stay in the United States forever. It just means that you're letting people out of detention. So they're able to isolate themselves like the rest of the, like the rest of America is doing while they're waiting for their immigration cases to be decided at the end of the day by an immigration judge. So I think that there are measures that ice can implement today quickly, um, that would really, really reduce the spread of the virus. Speaker 1: 10:35 That was immigration attorney Dorian Edgar Seto speaking with KPBS reporter max Riverland Adler core civic, which runs the OTI Mesa detention center, said in a statement that it's working to protect employees and it has issued guidelines to stop the spread of the virus. Speaker 4: 11:05 [inaudible].