McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers in Texas are registering, by far, the highest numbers of COVID-19 infections and isolation among migrants being detained.
Of the 21,805 migrants currently detained nationwide, a total of 2,748 (13%) are infected or being monitored for infection, according to the latest data from ICE posted Friday on the agency’s website.
Of the infected population, 1,609, or 59%, are being held in ICE detention facilities in Texas, the new data shows.
The Karnes County Residential Center, 60 miles southeast of San Antonio, has the most infections of any ICE facility in the nation with 506 migrant detainees either infected or being monitored for infection. That dramatic increase is up 166% from 190 detainees who were infected at the facility just a week ago.
The Karnes County infections exemplify how fast coronavirus is spreading lately, especially with a dramatic uptick in cases of the omicron virus reported throughout Texas.
Other ICE Field Offices with high reports of COVID-19 within their detention centers, as of Friday, include:
- Houston: 411
- Phoenix: 293
- New Orleans: 277
- El Paso: 148
- Atlanta: 116
- San Diego: 112
- Harlingen in South Texas: 47
- Dallas: 47
In a statement to Border Report, ICE officials said they remain “firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody.”
“ICE continues to conduct COVID testing on all individuals at intake at all our facility, ensuring those individuals are isolated and monitored in accordance with CDC guidelines,” the ICE spokesperson said.
But migrant advocates say not enough is being done to protect those held in close quarters during this prolonged pandemic, especially as the highly contagious omicron variant surges through communities.
In an opinion column Wednesday in the San Diego Union-Tribune, Layla Razavi, interim co-executive director of the nonprofit Freedom for Immigrants, wrote that infection numbers are skyrocketing and the public needs to be aware.
“As the Omicron variant tears through the immigration detention system at unprecedented speed, the federal government is no more prepared to ensure the safety of immigrants inside detention than it was two years ago,” Razavi wrote.
Razavi cited 52 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in southern California. And she wrote that COVID-19 cases at ICE detention centers nationwide have spiked 522% since the start of the year.
“ICE has failed to implement even the most basic COVID-19 safety protocols, let alone adhere to the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the multitude of court-ordered releases. As a result, ICE bears responsibility for the loss of at least 11 lives, more than 34,000 positive cases and an incalculable toll on the public health of communities surrounding immigrant detention centers across the country,” Razavi wrote.
ICE reports there have been a total of 35,154 confirmed COVID-19 cases among migrants at detention facilities since the pandemic began.
ICE offficials said in an email to Border Report that protocol measures implemented at all detention facilities to stop the spread of the virus include:
- Providing multi-language COVID-19 education and information upon intake.
- Evaluating those most vulnerable or at a higher risk for infection “to determine whether continued detention is appropriate.”
- Testing all new detainees upon arrival for coronavirus.
- Quarantining those with risk of exposure separately from the general population.
- Placing migrants with symptoms in a single medical housing room “or in a medical airborn infection isolation room specifically designed to contain biological agents, such as COVID-19.”
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.