Sen. Warren Re-Introduces Legislation To Require COVID-19 Data Collection in Immigration Detention Facilities

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In full transparency, 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.), Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) and Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.), a member of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship and Border Safety, reintroduced 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, vaccine distribution, and the preventative measures in place in these facilities.

This legislation is also cosponsored by Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), and by Representatives Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Sylvia R. Garcia (D-Texas), Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), Norma J. Torres (Calif.), and Jesús G. “Chuy” García (D-Ill.)

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. Data regarding the vaccination process is also currently insufficient. Federal reporting standards are necessary to protect against the virus and mitigate outbreaks.

“The COVID-19 crisis 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. We must mandate these reporting standards to guarantee transparency in COVID-19 testing, vaccination, and health standards and I’m glad to reintroduce this legislation to ensure the health and safety of individuals in detention,” said Senator Warren.

“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.”

“During this pandemic, I’ve led several fact-finding delegations to immigration detention centers and the neglect of basic public health measures is unacceptable, said Congressman Joaquin Castro. “I’m proud to work with Senator Warren to ensure that the federal government provides access to legal counsel, conducts testing, and reports data transparently so ICE and Border Patrol can be held to account. This bill is about preventing unnecessary outbreaks and protecting people from COVID.”

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.
  • Require ICE, CBP, ORR, and contract facilities to collect and submit data on COVID-19 vaccination progress to the CDC on a weekly basis and regularly publish this data on their websites.
  • 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 need to raise our standards and this legislation will help us do that by providing public health experts and Congress with the data we need,” said Senator Baldwin “This legislation will make sure that there is public reporting to provide us with information. With this data, we can better help stop the spread of COVID-19 and prevent deadly outbreaks in immigration detention facilities so we are protecting the health and safety of those being held, and workers in these facilities.”

“Seeking a better life in America shouldn’t come with a death sentence – especially not at the hands of the U.S. government. 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 were put in place by the Trump Administration to prevent the spread of the disease. I look forward to working with new leadership in the Biden Administration to protect the health and safety of immigrants and immigrant communities,” said Senator Blumenthal.

“We have an obligation to ensure the health and safety of all individuals in detention, regardless of their immigration status,” said Senator Brown. “And we know the conditions in immigration detention facilities have contributed to the growing spread of COVID-19, which disproportionally affects Black and brown communities. This legislation is an important first step toward ensuring we have the accurate and reliable data needed to put an effective plan in place to protect the wellbeing and rights of individuals and children in these facilities.”  

“This is the moment to overhaul our nation’s immigration system and center our policymaking in justice, humanity, and dignity for every person. This starts by holding ICE and CBP accountable for the health and safety of every person in detention. During the coronavirus pandemic, detention centers have been hotspots for infection, putting already vulnerable lives at greater risk. We need transparency regarding the practices and protocols that these agencies have in place to protect those in custody from the coronavirus. I’m proud to co-sponsor the Immigration Detention Data Transparency Act with my colleagues today,” said Senator Markey. 

“Nearly a year after the pandemic started, it is well documented that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected communities of color, including migrants in immigration detention centers where they have been cruelly denied access to basic resources to stay safe during this public health crisis,” said Senator  Menendez. “And yet, we still have inadequate data on how migrants are being affected by this virus in detention centers, precautions being taken to keep them safe, and at what rate they are being vaccinated compared to the rest of the population in the U.S. This is unacceptable, and this bill will ensure we have the information needed to take care of some of the most vulnerable among us during this ongoing pandemic.”

“It’s not too much to ask that our government treat every person-regardless of the color of their skin or where they’re from-with decency and respect,” said Senator Merkley. “In the face of this pandemic, that means we have to make sure that detention facilities do not become shadowy COVID-19 hot spots. So let’s work together to establish the full transparency we need to put critical safeguards in place that can save lives.”

“It’s no secret that COVID-19 has impacted immigration detention centers at an alarming rate,” said Senator Alex Padilla, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship and Border Safety. “We must establish accountability and transparency in reporting data to ensure detention centers are taking the necessary precautions to protect detained individuals. I’m proud to cosponsor this legislation that will help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in detention centers and protect the health and safety of everyone during this crisis.”

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“The spread of the coronavirus in immigration detention centers continues tothreaten the lives of thousands of people, including staff, detainees, and nearby communities. We have a responsibility to protect all of these individuals and ensure healthy and safe conditions. Access to accurate and transparent data on COVID-19 in detention facilities is crucial to this effort,” said Senator Van Hollen.

“Before the pandemic even began, I went to the U.S.-Mexico border to investigate immigration detention facilities and found them lacking basic health and safety protocols. In the midst of an unprecedented health crisis, the last place families should be is in detention centers where their health is compromised and viruses wreak havoc. Congress must demand transparency from immigration detention facilities to understand and better address the impact of COVID-19 on detained noncitizens. I will keep pushing to make sure that every family is treated with dignity and care, no matter their immigration status,” Senator Wyden said.

The COVID-19 in Immigration Detention Data Transparency Act is endorsed by AILA, Amnesty International USA,  the American Public Health Association, Doctors for Camp Closure, Church World Service, Immigration Hub,  Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Kino Border Initiative, Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition, the National Immigration Law Center, the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, Union for Reform Judaism, RAICES, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Vera Institute of Justice.

“America is nearly one year into the pandemic, and people in ICE custody continue to suffer from the agency’s failure to take all appropriate steps necessary to protect their health and safety. The Immigration Detention Data Transparency Act is a key step towards holding the agency accountable for its shortcomings, making public what ICE is doing to prevent the unnecessary spread of illness and possible death of individuals in detention, government employees, and visitors.” Kate Voigt, Senior Associate Director of Government Relations, American Immigration Lawyers Association

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the extent of medical neglect and abuse in ICE detention facilities, and the critical need to shine a light on those abuses. The COVID-19 in Immigration Detention Data Transparency Act is an important step towards transparency and accountability within a system of mass incarceration that has been rife with human rights abuses.” said Sirine Shebaya, Executive Director, National Immigration Project (NIPNLG).

“It is essential that we act with urgency to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 infection for individuals in immigration detention, including taking steps to reduce detention. In order to do so, we need comprehensive data on the current impact, risks and conditions. 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.”  Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) 

“The COVID-19 in Immigration Detention Data Transparency Act will create urgently needed transparency into how the COVID-19 pandemic is jeopardizing the lives of immigrants in detention. While the ultimate solution should be to end detention and close immigrant detention centers in order to mitigate the dangerously rapid spread of COVID-19, this bill provides important new legal, privacy and medical protections for detainees and takes important steps towards a more just response to the pandemic. Congress should swiftly pass this bill. In the meantime, we look forward to working with the Biden administration to determine which of the proposed policies it can implement,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center (NILC). 

“Every day we receive people at our migrant aid center who have been returned to Mexico from the US, some from Eloy, an Arizona detention center that reported the most COVID-19 cases of any ICE facility in the US last 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 Kino Border Initiative 

“We already know that immigration detention is cruel and immoral. Yet during a pandemic, when the vulnerable don’t have access to care, that cruelty and immorality compounds. That’s why this bill is vital, because as long as men, women, and children remain in these facilities, and susceptible to COVID-19, they must be afforded medical protections,” said Meredith Owen, Director of Policy and Advocacy, Church World Service

Read the Bill Text here.

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