Coronavirus Is Shutting Everything Down, Except for ICE Arrests

ICE detainment facilities could quickly become a hub for Covid-19

Gaby Del Valle
GEN
Published in
5 min readMar 25, 2020

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Odalys K. Fernandez, Laurie Woodward Garcia, and Yaquelin Lopez join with other protesters outside a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office on March 13, 2020, in Miramar, Florida. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

AA Mexican immigrant at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in New Jersey tested positive for the coronavirus this week — a tragedy advocates warned would happen if ICE continued to arrest and detain people in the midst of a pandemic. But for ICE, operations under Covid-19 have been business as usual.

Even though millions of Americans have disrupted their lives in a bid to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, lawyers across the country say immigrants are still being arrested despite the pandemic. (An ICE spokesperson didn’t clarify how many arrests the agency has conducted since mid-March, because ICE releases enforcement data by quarter.)

“The intake numbers in detention have definitely not gone down,” says Nyasa Hickey, director of immigration services at Brooklyn Defender Services. “We have reports from detained clients that people are continuing to come in, that new people aren’t being quarantined.”

Little has changed for the ICE officers who arrest immigrants, the facilities that detain them, and the judges who preside over their cases. In Los Angeles, ICE officers carried out arrests last week while wearing masks and gloves, according to the Los Angeles Times. In Nevada, ICE arrested a father of three when he left his house to buy cleaning supplies and food that his family would need for two weeks of self-quarantine. In Denver, ICE arrested a woman who was about to pick up her children from school.

Government workers and immigrant advocates alike warn that letting arrests, detentions, and deportations continue will speed up transmissions of the virus. In addition, ICE’s efforts to protect continued operations may only be making the national picture worse: ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations division, which handles arrests, is reportedly trying to get its hands on 45,000 N95 masks, all while hospital workers face shortages.

For a moment, it seemed like ICE would change course. In a statement issued last Wednesday, ICE said it was temporarily adjusting its enforcement priorities in light of the virus and would focus on arresting immigrants…

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Gaby Del Valle
GEN
Writer for

Gaby Del Valle is a freelance writer who lives in Brooklyn. She is the co-founder of BORDER/LINES, a weekly newsletter about immigration policy. @gabydvj