COVID-19 in ICE Detention Centers

World in a Grain of Sand Award

By: Claire Woolson, Elizabeth Tsuang, Hanna Maillard, Leticia Camacho, Raymond Astorga

ICE detainees are ill and dying, and we need to talk about why. In an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19, ICE employees at a detention facility in Adelanto, CA sprayed detainees with HDQ Neutral, a toxic disinfectant, causing skin irritation, nose bleeds, coughing, and nausea.

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On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Huge changes to daily life ensued for all. Many people feared for their safety and took steps to protect themselves. Yet for those kept in the custody of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the basic precautions to protect themselves was an unattainable luxury. People who are incarcerated in the United States, whether this is in an ICE Detention Facility or prison, are unable to take steps to protect themselves from this pandemic because their rights and self-determination have been stripped from them. In particular, the Adelanto Processing Center’s measures to stop the spread of COVID-19 went to a horrifying extreme. Reports described a lack of PPE and other CDC-recommended safety precautions. Instead of providing even the bare minimum of COVID-19 prevention measures, ICE decided to spray its Detainees with HDQ Neutral. This chemical is a toxic substance, causing skin reactions and lung damage on mice in animal studies. Except now, we are seeing these brutal side effects first-hand in humans, clearly showing how ICE abuses those in its custody. The conditions in ICE Detention Centers during the COVID-19 pandemic reflect the ongoing patterns of racism and xenophobia in the United States. Unequal health outcomes and deaths due to COVID-19 is another piece of this story. In this project, a myriad of articles examine the current environment in ICE Detention Centers, the virology of COVID-19, the history of this relatively new government agency, and the experience of immigration of Latinx people to the United States. By culminating an expanse of information into a single, cohesive website with curated lists of resources and shareable infographics, this project hopes to inform and inspire action for fundamental systematic changes in how our government functions.

This project is awarded the “World in a grain of sand” award for taking a seemingly small, specific event— ICE detainees being sprayed with disinfectant— and unravelling it into a complete story of how ICE and Covid intersect and exposing the myriad problems with our immigration policy and practice. Well-designed and rendered as an engaging and complex website. – Professor Kelty

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