Requesting ICE Records About Detained Individuals at Risk of Exposure to COVID-19

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Why are there concerns about an outbreak of COVID-19 in ICE detention facilities?

Individuals detained in immigration detention centers by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are at risk of exposure to COVID-19. This is because they are not able to follow public health guidelines — like social distancing — to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

Individuals detained in ICE facilities have been victims of infectious disease outbreaks — including outbreaks of the flu, chickenpox and mumps — as recently as 2018 and 2019.

ICE’s ability to curb the spread of COVID-19 impacts the health of detainees and their immigration cases. During other infectious disease outbreaks, an immediate effect of limited access to the facilities by visitors was the lack of access to legal representatives. Attorneys reported delayed cases and prolonged detention as a result of the outbreak, and detainees without access to their lawyers were ordered deported by judges after video hearings.

Additionally, stakeholders and public health officials have long been concerned about inadequate medical care in ICE facilities. The immigration detention system could quickly become overwhelmed with potentially fatal consequences if COVID-19 begins to spread among detained individuals.

Why are we filing this FOIA request?

This request seeks information that will enhance the public’s understanding of steps ICE has taken to protect detained individuals from an outbreak of COVID-19 and steps ICE will take to identify and treat detained individuals who are at risk of infection—or who have become infected. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that older adults and people who have severe underlying chronic medical conditions appear to be at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19. Because individuals detained in ICE facilities currently live and sleep near each other and cannot isolate themselves, it is critical to immediately understand steps ICE has taken to prepare for a COVID-19 outbreak and to avoid the potentially fatal consequences if COVID-19 begins to spread among detained individuals.

What records did the government release?

ICE released over 600 largely redacted pages in response to our FOIA lawsuit seeking information about how the agency planned—or failed—to protect people in its custody from the coronavirus. Few of the documents contained clear DHS guidance for handling COVID-19 in detained settings. We continue to pursue information regarding treatment and housing of detained individuals, protocols for cleaning facilities, and data. See the government records on DocumentCloud.

The American Immigration Council filed a lawsuit after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) failed to timely respond to the Council’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.


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