The World Health Organization (WHO) declared novel coronavirus 19 (COVID-19) a pandemic on March 11, 2020, noting that it was not just a public health crisis, but one that would affect every sector of society. The Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General surveyed personnel at ICE detention facilities from April 8 to 20, 2020, regarding their experiences and challenges managing COVID-19 among detainees in their custody and among their staff.
The number of detainees in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) custody who have tested positive for COVID-19 has risen dramatically, from one detainee on March 25, 2020, to 1,312 detainees on May 26, 2020. The 188 ICE detention facilities that responded to the OIG survey described various actions they have taken to prevent and mitigate the pandemic’s spread among detainees.
These actions include increased cleaning and disinfecting of common areas, and quarantining new detainees, when possible, as a precautionary measure. However, facilities reported concerns with their inability to practice social distancing among detainees, and to isolate or quarantine individuals who may be infected with COVID-19. Regarding staffing, facilities reported decreases in current staff availability due to COVID-19, but have contingency plans in place to ensure continued operations.
The personnel at facilities also expressed concerns with the availability of staff, as well as protective equipment for staff, if an outbreak of COVID-19 occurred in the facility. Overall, almost all facility personnel stated they were prepared to address COVID-19, but expressed concerns if the pandemic continued to spread. At the time of the OIG survey, 23 facilities reported having detainees who tested positive for COVID-19; this number had risen to 52 facilities as of May 26, 2020.
OIG made no recommendations. ICE described the COVID-19 pandemic as an “unprecedented public health crisis,” and reiterated measures described in this report that it had taken to detect and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in its detention facilities.