Daniel Gonzalez, Arizona Republic, April 11, 2020
Advocates calling on federal immigration authorities to release detainees amid the coronavirus pandemic staged a protest outside two detention centers in Eloy, Arizona, on Friday.
A caravan of more than 100 cars drove to the two facilities, where advocates said detainees are in grave danger of contracting the coronavirus.
The protest, staged in cars to protect participants from potential spread of the disease, came as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases among detainees in Arizona continues to rise. Detainees also have complained of a lack of soap, disinfectant, gloves, masks and the ability to practice social distancing in the facility.
“We are demanding that ICE release detainees, beginning with the most vulnerable,” said Maxima Guerrero, a coordinator with Puente Human Rights Movement, which organized Friday’s car rally along with another group, Trans Queer Pueblo.
Because of the close quarters in which detainees are held, detention centers are at risk of turning into “death camps” due to the coronavirus outbreak, she said.
Numerous groups have filed a wave of lawsuits around the country that have resulted in judges ordering the release of dozens of detainees from California to Massachusetts to New Jersey.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases among detainees jumped from one on Monday to five on Friday — three at the Florence Detention Center in Florence and two at La Palma Correctional Center in Eloy, according to statistics posted on the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s website.
The first coronavirus case involving an immigration detainee was reported by ICE on March 30 in New Jersey. Since then, the total number of confirmed cases nationally has soared to 61, as of Friday.
In addition, 19 ICE employees at detention facilities have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the agency.
On ICE’s website, the agency outlines several actions ICE has taken to minimize the spread of the coronavirus, including identifying people at higher risk of severe illness.
The agency released more than 160 high-risk detainees after evaluating their immigration history, criminal history and potential threat to public safety, the agency said.
In addition, ICE has limited the intake of new detainees being introduced into the ICE detention system. ICE’s detained population has dropped by more than 4,000 individuals since March 1, 2020, with a more than 60% decrease in book-ins when compared to this time last year, the agency said.
As of April 4, 33,863 remain detained in ICE custody, according to the agency’s website.