Trejo & Shah:  ICE Continues to Terrorize Our Undocumented Community Members During COVID-19

Oswaldo Farias

“My husband’s fingers have become numb, feeling no sensation in his fingertips and even after asking for medical treatment for two straight weeks in Adelanto, he has yet to receive it,” Say Podskarbi tells us via an OC Rapid Response hotline call. Adelanto, a privately run detention facility, houses over 1,700 detainees on a daily basis. This case alone exemplifies the inadequate health care services provided in ICE detention facilities in the midst of COVID-19. It reiterates findings published in a 2017 report by the Human Watch Network “Systematic Indifference,” highlighting the delays in access to health care and emergency responses, the system wide failures with staffing and training, and the substandard care that has contributed to over a third of deaths of people in detention.

While many of us are currently practicing self distancing, by limiting our outings, maintaining six feet of distance between others, and many of us working from home, we know such guidelines are impossible to follow in detention centers that have become dangerously overcrowded according to a 2019 DHS report:

https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2019-07/OIG-19-51-Jul19_.pdf

According to physicians and the Center for Disease Control, social distancing is the one of the most effective preventive measures for COVID-19.  Close proximity of detainees in common areas, dining halls, TV rooms, showers, etc. do not lend themselves to social distancing. At this crucial moment, detainees are not allowed any visits from their family members.

These conditions are magnified during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Community members, activists, and advocates know for certain that this pandemic will be catastrophic in detention facilities. This will impact detainees, their family members, and the community at large. These same individuals are taking action to hold ICE and congressional representatives accountable. Last week in a March 24th press release the “Orange County Justice Fund along with more than 50 community organizations and leaders, including the OC Rapid Response Network, sent a letter to six congressional representatives from Orange County urging them to demand the release of ICE detainees, including Orange County residents.”

Jennifer Lee Koh, President of the Board of Directors for the OC Justice Fund states: “Conditions in detention facilities have been atrocious for a very long time. Getting individuals out of detention is always urgent — but now there is a special urgency with COVID-19. We’ve bonded several people whose medical needs have been overlooked, but at the same time we’ve heard stories about people getting sent to isolation simply for inquiring about medical care.” The OC Justice Fund is part of a National Bail Fund Network that is working to address COVID-19 concerns for individuals who are in detention. At this moment it is of utmost importance to donate to bail funds like the OC Justice Fund, to free members of our community currently in detention https://ocjusticefund.org/donate/ As of March 24th, the first detainee tested positive for COVID-19 at the Bergen County Jail in the state of New Jersey.

In order to have a proper response to individuals in detention, we must also address ICE’s actions to further detain members of our community. On March 18, they stated, “ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) will focus enforcement on public safety risks and individuals subject to mandatory detention based on criminal grounds. For those individuals who do not fall into those categories, ERO will exercise discretion to delay enforcement actions until after the crisis or utilize alternatives to detention, as appropriate.” Mau, a member of the OC Rapid Response Network’s, response to this statement is of utter disagreement: “even during a global health pandemic, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, continues to terrorize immigrant communities not just in Orange County but in the entire country. The on-going ICE check-ins are putting already vulnerable people at risk of contracting COVID-19. They aren’t just putting immigrant folks at risk, but their entire families and communities.”

The OC Rapid Response Network is currently receiving calls and texts from individuals who spot ICE in their community through a hotline number: (714)-881-1558. It is important to call this number if any community members are detained during this pandemic. At this moment, the OC Rapid Response Network has launched a call to action to free all detainees, as well as dismiss all ICE check-ins to protect all vulnerable community members from COVID-19. Community members can call USCIS Field Director David Marin at (213) 830 -5931 and email him at david.a.marin@ice.dhs.gov to demand justice.

Many undocumented community members are feeling uneasy at this moment so we remind individuals of the resources spread out through the county. Many of those resources compiled by Chispa, VietRise, and other community organizations and individuals can be accessed through this link: bit.ly/cv19ocresources. If you are a community member who is in need of funds during this time, the Orange County chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America have a mutual aid fund where you can request funds: https://www.gofundme.com/f/solidarity-fund-orange-county-dsa

We, the OC Rapid Response Network, along with our allies and community, are demanding a moratorium on ICE detentions, ICE Check-Ins and ICE activity in Orange County. We urge everyone to join the fight to free them all. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram @ocrrn for further updates.

Mauricio Trejo is an undocumented writer, educator, and organizer from Santa Ana, CA.

Sonali Shah is a first-generation immigrant and community member who works at a private speech therapy practice in Irvine.

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