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U.S. Customs officers stand beside a sign saying that the U.S. border is closed at the U.S./Canada border in Lansdowne, Ontario, on March 22, 2020.

U.S. Customs officers stand beside a sign saying that the U.S. border is closed at the U.S./Canada border in Lansdowne, Ontario, on March 22, 2020. (Photo: Lars Hagberg/AFP via Getty Images)

Because of the Threat of Coronavirus Turning ICE Detention Into 'Death Camps,' Groups Rallying to Free Families Held Around Country

"ICE is making the pandemic more dangerous for everyone."

Eoin Higgins

As legal advocates filed an emergency suit on behalf of families and children detained by ICE, activists around the U.S. demonstrated against the continuing detention of immigrants by the federal agency as the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread across the nation.

The agency's detention centers are known for their danger in spreading deadly disease to prisoners and it's a matter of when—not if—the disease arrives at a facility and infects hundreds or thousands of people. 

"ICE is making the pandemic more dangerous for everyone," tweeted The Real News on Sunday.

A lawsuit filed in Washington, D.C. by legal groups RAICES, Rapid Defense Network, and ALDEA—The People's Justice Center is demanding the government immediately release families detained at the agency's Family Residential Centers (FRC). 

As the groups said in a press release:

These organizations represent are representing immigrant families who have sought protection from persecution and torture and who are detained in ICE custody civilly at the Berks family detention center, the Karnes family detention center, and the Dilley family detention center. Family Residential Center, the Karnes County Family Residential Center, and the South Texas Family Residential Center. The three FRCs are the only immigration family detention centers in the United States. Each FRC of the FRCs hashave failed to take adequate measures to protect detained these families from COVID-19, and there is no justification for risking these families' health and safety. Doing so also risks the increasingly strained local healthcare systems American health care system, should these families contract COVID-19 while detained contract the coronavirus infection.

The migrants in the facilities are not going anywhere, the organizations added.

"The families who are detained in these detention centers facilities have no criminal history and do not pose any threat whatsoever to public safety and are not flight risk-they all came to the United States to seek asylum and are actively pursuing the right to remain in the United States," the groups said. "Therefore, these families pose no flight risk at all."

Meanwhile, activists inside and out of detention centers took action to push back against the continuing detention of migrants in the midst of a global health crisis. 

In New Jersey, detainees are taking part in hunger strikes in three detention centers over unsanitary, filthy conditions and the coming onset of disease.

"They're not taking any measures to protect us," one detainee told Vice. "They haven't done any cleaning. We spent three days without soap."

According to Vice:

At the Hudson County Corrections and Rehabilitation Center—a county jail with a contract to house ICE detainees—inmates began a hunger strike Wednesday, with others joining them Thursday. This follows an ongoing hunger strike at the jail in Essex County, which was first announced Tuesday.

On Sunday, a protest organized by Never Again Action turned out nearly 100 cars in force to show disapproval of the continued operation of the Hudson County Detention Center and demand New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy release the detainees.

"The detention centers must be emptied before they turn into death camps," Never Again Action tweeted.

"This is an impressive protest, carried out with social distancing," said engineer Marc Hedlund.

Never Again also held an in-car protest outside of California Gov. Gavin Newsom's home and called for the release of detainees in the Golden State.

Action is needed now in the facilities, Human Rights First legal fellow Rebecca Gendelman told Vice.

"On a normal day, conditions in immigrant detention are extremely dire," said Gendelman. "There's limited access to medical care, the care is often not adequate, and neither are hygiene and cleaning. And all this is before there's a global pandemic."


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