Sen. Warren Files Bicameral Legislation To Require COVID-19 Data Collection in Immigration Detention Facilities

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The following is a media release from Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s office. She was elected by voters in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to serve the state in Washington DC in the US Senate. She is a Democrat.

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WASHINGTON DC – United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-Texas.), Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Border Security and Immigration, introduced the bicameral COVID-19 in Immigration Detention Data Transparency Act,which would require immigration-detention facilities to collect and publicly report data about COVID-19 cases and the preventative measures in place in these facilities.

This legislation is also cosponsored by Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Representatives Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), Sylvia R. Garcia (D-Texas.), Filemon Vela (D-Texas.), James P. McGovern (D-Mass.), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), and Al Green (D-Texas.).

COVID-19 presents serious risks to individuals in group settings, including in immigration detention. Tens of thousands of people are currently held in, or work in, facilities run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), as well as in immigration-detention facilities that have contracted with these agencies. Many detained people cannot take precautionary measures such as social distancing and wearing personal protective equipment due to their close confinement and the limited resources available to them. Currently, available information about the number of COVID-19 cases affecting individuals in immigration detention is inadequate for the purpose of stopping the spread of the virus and protecting detainees, staff, and nearby communities. Federal reporting standards are necessary to protect against the virus and mitigate outbreaks.

“We are facing a crisis unlike anything in our lifetimes — and it is hitting vulnerable members of our communities the hardest, including those in detention facilities. Many detained people are at the mercy of the facilities in which they’re held. That is why we need to mandate these reporting standards,” said Senator Warren.

“Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve visited multiple immigration detention centers and I’m appalled by the neglect of basic public health measures to protect people’s lives,” said CongressJoaquin Castro (TX-20), Chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. “I’m proud to partner with Senator Warren to ensure that the federal government guarantees access to legal counsel, provides testing and commits to keeping reported data transparently so ICE and Border Patrol can be held accountable. This legislation is about protecting people from the coronavirus and preventing unnecessary outbreaks from overwhelming our health system.”

“We know that individuals in detention centers are disproportionately at risk of contracting COVID-19, but because of a lack of federal reporting standards, we  don’t have the full picture needed to make critical public health decisions that protect the health and safety of detained individuals and nearby communities,” said Senator Booker. “Our bill is part of an urgent effort to address the COVID-19 crisis in detention centers and to ensure that experts have the data and information they need to make public health recommendations to save as many lives as possible.”

The COVID-19 in Immigration Detention Data Transparency Act provides public health experts, policymakers, immigration advocates, and the public with critical information about COVID-19 in immigration detention facilities. The bill creates reporting standards for agencies and facilities responsible for the custody and care of immigrant detainees. 

The bill would do the following:

  • Require ICE, CBP, ORR, and contract facilities to collect and submit COVID-19 data to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on a weekly basis and regularly publish this data on their websites. The data will be stored in a manner that protects an individual’s privacy and may not be used against them in any future immigration proceedings.
  • Mandate that ICE, CBP, and ORR report to Congress on the protocols and practices in place at each detention facility under their jurisdiction, outlining the health standards, the standards of medical care provided to detainees, and the sanitation practices at each facility.
  • Require ICE, CBP, ORR, and the head of each contract facility to report to Congress on the efforts made to ensure detained individuals have access to legal counsel.
  • Ensure that detained individuals tested for COVID-19 have confidential access to all their test results and medical records, in their preferred language.

“We know that immigrants held in detention centers are at a significantly higher risk of contracting COVID-19, but we have no data about how many people have gotten sick, if they’ve been treated, or what precautions have been put in place to prevent the spread of the disease. Seeking a better life in America shouldn’t come with a death sentence – especially not at the hands of the U.S. government,” said Senator Blumenthal. 

“In the midst of this pandemic, we are reminded every day that America would be lost without immigrants. At the same time, thousands of immigrants are languishing in an inhumane detention system where the virus is spreading like wildfire. Data about COVID-19 cases in DHS and HHS facilities must be adequately tracked and reported to help address this crisis,” said Senator Durbin.  “This legislation takes a step forward in ensuring that local leaders and public health experts have the data readily available to address the needs of these facilities.”

“ICE and CBP have repeatedly shown their willingness to prioritize hardline immigration enforcement over the well-being of immigrants and immigrant communities. We know detention centers are hotspots for coronavirus and are putting lives at risk every day. Congress has an obligation to hold these agencies accountable for the health and safety of every person in detention. I am proud to cosponsor the Immigration Detention Data Transparency Act, which will bring much needed transparency to ICE and CBP practices and protocols during the pandemic,” said Senator Markey. 

“Every human being coming to America in the hopes of building a better life for themselves and their families deserves to be treated with respect and care-not to be forced into a shadowy COVID hot spot,” said Senator Merkley. “Alarming reports of outbreaks and inadequate care in our detention facilities must be addressed immediately, and we need full transparency and access to valuable data to make that happen. I’m urging all of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join our call for that information, so we can do the right thing and save lives.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the harm done by Trump’s senseless and cruel immigration policies,” said Senator Sanders. “This bill will ensure public health experts have the data they need to stop the deadly outbreaks we are seeing in immigration detention facilities.” 

“As we see COVID-19 cases rise throughout our nation, the spread of the coronavirus in immigration detention centers threatens the lives of thousands of detainees, staff, and nearby communities. We have a moral responsibility to protect all of these individuals and ensure healthy and safe conditions. Requiring access to accurate and transparent data on COVID-19 in detention facilities is crucial to this effort,” said Senator Van Hollen.

The COVID-19 in Immigration Detention Data Transparency Act is endorsed by American Immigration Lawyers Association, Amnesty International USA, American Public Health Association, Church World Service, Freedom for Immigrants, Immigration Hub, Kino Border Initiative, Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, National Immigration Law Center, National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, Partners in Health, and Southern Poverty Law Center.

“The Immigration Detention Data Transparency Act is a vital step towards ensuring the safety of people who are detained by DHS. Since the start of the pandemic, we have seen ICE refuse to take meaningful measures to protect the thousands of individuals currently in its custody, including failure to provide hygiene supplies, personal protective equipment, testing, and access to critical medical care. This legislation would require ICE to report key information, so that the public knows what ICE is doing to prevent the unnecessary illness and possible death of individuals in detention, government employees, and visitors, said Kate Voigt, Senior Associate Director of Government Relations, American Immigration Lawyers Association

“This bill is vital. Our immigrant detention system is immoral and unjustifiable. The unprecedented investment in punitive enforcement strategies is a failed experiment that has caused untold suffering in communities. Instead, we should be investing in community-based alternatives. Families and individuals have traveled thousands of miles in the hopes that they could participate in America. It is our duty that we do not leave them susceptible to the pandemic sweeping our world. Putting men, women, and children in detention shall remain wrong morally, but while the practice continues, these vulnerable people should be afforded the right to care, not subjected to the risk of COVID-19,” said Reverend John L McCullough, President and CEO of Church World Service

“Individuals in immigration detention face a heightened risk for COVID-19 infection. We must take measures to address this risk, including reducing detention, but we can’t execute an adequate response without comprehensive data,” said Eva Millona, President and CEO of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA). “MIRA is proud to support the COVID-19 in Immigrant Detention Data Transparency Act and we are grateful to Senator Warren, Senator Booker, and Representative Castro for their leadership on behalf of immigrant and refugee communities.”

“Medical neglect and abuse in DHS detention facilities have long been at crisis levels – with the onset of the pandemic, this past fiscal year became one of the deadliest in DHS’s history. The COVID-19 in Immigration Detention Data Transparency Act is a critical step forward in addressing the human rights abuses inside the walls of these immigration jails.,” said Charanya Krishnaswami, Americas Advocacy Director, Amnesty International USA

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, ICE has acted directly against the guidance of public health experts. People in detention report deterioration in detention conditions and continued lack of access to essential supplies, including personal protective equipment and soap. It is clear that our current laws are not enough to ensure a transparent government,” said Sarah Gardiner, Policy Director at Freedom for Immigrants. “Freedom for Immigrants has consistently documented numerous inaccuracies, omissions, and errors in ICE’s public reporting on COVID-19. ICE’s deception, incompetency, and false statements have resulted in a rate of infection in immigration detention that is outrageously disproportionate to national averages. This bill is a step toward more transparency, as we continue to call on the next administration to drastically reduce detention levels.”

“Every day we receive people at our migrant aid center who have been deported, some from Eloy, an Arizona detention center that reported the most COVID-19 cases of any ICE facility in the US this fall. Migrants arriving in Nogales share that they are denied medical care and that they plead with guards to change their gloves before serving food.  We have looked into the eyes of a man who self-deported for fear he would die of COVID in detention.  The COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act would provide for more accountability in immigrant detention and greater protection of migrants from the Coronavirus. In the end, as people of faith we cannot turn a blind eye to this injustice that is happening behind closed doors,” said Father Sean Carroll, SJ, Executive Director, Kino Border Initiative

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Senator Warren has been pushing for health equity in the federal pandemic response and for transparent data collection and reporting. In August, Senators Warren and Booker-along with Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Representatives Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas), Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), and Robin Kelly (D-Ill.)-introduced the COVID-19 in Corrections Data Transparency Act. That bill similarly improves transparency around the pandemic’s effects on incarcerated populations by requiring the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the United States Marshals Service, and state governments to collect and publicly report detailed data about COVID-19 in federal, state, and local correctional facilities.

The introduction of this bill is part of Senator Warren’s ongoing efforts to protect the rights and wellbeing of migrants and asylum seekers:

  • Last month, Senator Warren joined Senator Merkley in sending a letter demanding that the Trump administration halt any and all plans to deport dozens of women who have come forward to report unnecessary and non-consensual medical procedures while detained at Irwin County Detention Center (ICDC) in Ocilla, Georgia. In September, the Senator joined her colleagues in calling for a congressional hearings into a whistleblower report of medical negligence at ICDC.
  • In April, Senator Warren joined Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) in a letter to the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) requesting they open an investigation into the conditions at ICE detention facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Senator Warren joined a letter to the DHS OIG requesting an investigation into the conditions that led to the death of the first individual in immigration detention from COVID-19 at Otay Mesa, an ICE facility in California.
  • Earlier this year, Senator Warren and Representative Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to CBP, calling on it to strengthen its new Medical Directive, which mandates the agency’s requirements for medical screening and delivery of medical care to migrants in CBP custody.
  • Senator Warren is a cosponsor of Senator Booker’s Federal Immigrant Release for Safety and Security Together (FIRST) Act, which would provide for the release of vulnerable, low-risk detained persons from immigration detention facilities during the pandemic..
  • Senators Warren and Markey led the Massachusetts congressional delegation in calling for all deportations to be halted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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