National — The Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project (BLMP), Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, and Transgender Law Center call on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to release all people currently detained and for the Department of Homeland Security to shut down all immigration prisons (referred to by others as detention centers). 

According to reporting by Common Dreams, in Ohio a county court “ordered the release of hundreds of (people who were incarcerated) to prevent the spread of the [the novel COVID-19 virus]. This was followed by a lawsuit against ICE by the ACLU and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP) “on behalf of immigrants detained at Tacoma Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington, near the epicenter of the first COVID-19 outbreak in the United States.” The COVID-19 pandemic demands urgent action and the abolition of immigration prisons and other forms of carceral punishment.

The following are statements from LGBTQ and immigrant rights organizations responding to this global pandemic:

Ola Osaze, Director, BLMP: “People like Sza Sza, a Jamaican transgender woman who is detained at Aurora Contract Detention Facility, are now put in incredibly vulnerable situations where they are denied adequate soap, water, and sanitizer. Detention conditions are a petri dish for the transmission of COVID-19, with or without soap and water. ICE has no business detaining people and continuing to do so, especially in the midst of a global pandemic. This is not only a public health issue but one that has potentially deadly consequences for the tens of thousands of people detained in ICE facilities as well as those that work in these facilities.” 

Nana Gyamfi, Executive Director, BAJI: “There is no way to humanely cage living beings. Humans are living beings. Humans, especially Black humans, are dying everyday in cages called jails, prisons, lockups and detention centers due to their inherently inhumane conditions. Our call is to #FreeEmAll. People in immigration detention, city and county jails, court lockups and juvenile jails/prisons must be released immediately. Today. Without exception. Justice and torture cannot co-exist. It is torture to continue to lock people up and expose them to COVID-19, a disease that is already taking a toll on the globe.”

Úmi Vera, Campaign and Organizing Director, Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement: “LGBTQ+ immigrants, especially Black people, trans women, people living with disabilities, various illnesses and/or health problems that compromise their immune systems are particularly vulnerable due to anti-Blackness, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia by immigration prison staff. Often, their medical needs are ignored or they are given substandard care. Immigrants in detention cannot follow the CDC guidelines of protecting themselves from this pandemic. ICE and its agents will be held responsible for any transmission of COVID-19 to people in its custody.” 

Lynly Egyes, Legal Director, TLC: “At TLC, we hear numerous stories from people who have been held in detention centers having their medical needs being ignored despite repeated pleas for help. And now detention centers face even more medical issues than before. All LGBTQ+ migrants, especially those who are Black, trans, living with HIV, living with disabilities and/or chronic illnesses, must be released in order to keep them safe. It has been made clear time and time again that immigration prisons cannot keep LGBTQ+ migrants and people living with HIV safe. We already know the consequences will be dire if ICE chooses not to release LGBTQ+ migrants from detention.”

People in ICE custody are vulnerable to getting COVID-19 given the close proximity of detained people to each other. ICE officers, guards, and other staff are also likely to transmit the virus. Worldwide, epidemiologists are advising social distancing as a way to mitigate the spread of the novel COVID-19. Prisons, jails and detention centers cannot accommodate this advice. Solitary confinement further impedes access to necessary medical care. Given ICE’s history of inadequate treatment and the recent deaths of eight immigrants in ICE custody in the last five months, it is clear that ICE is not ready nor equipped to handle a COVID-19 outbreak in any of its facilities. 

Last year, sixty LGBTQ, civil rights, and immigration justice organizations submitted a complaint to DHS citing the medical neglect and abuse suffered by eighteen LGBTQ migrants and people living with HIV at eight different immigration prisons. A subsequent addendum was filed after learning that evidence showing the final moments of Roxsana Hernandez at Cibola County Correctional Center may have been deleted, even though ICE knew of its responsibility to preserve evidence. 

Continuing to detain immigrants is dangerous and inhumane given that the world is facing an unprecedented global pandemic that doesn’t discriminate nor care what someone’s immigration status is. Jails, prisons and detention centers continue to remain at risk of being the epicenters of this pandemic and other public health related issues.