Immigrants with Disabilities at Risk for COVID-19 in Detention Centers

May 5, 2020
Immigrants with Disabilities at Risk for COVID-19 in Detention Centers

For Immediate Release

Contact: David Card
202.408.9514 x122
[email protected]

WASHINGTON, DC – Although they are not criminals, asylum seekers and other detainees are often held in the same detention conditions as adult prisoners and juvenile detainees. These facilities are crowded with limited access to medical care. Many of these detainees are more vulnerable to contracting the more serious symptoms of COVID-19, due to an exceptionally high rate of disability in the population, and the physical and mental stress of their journey here. As Americans, we have a legal and moral obligation to ensure their safety while in our custody.

On April 4, 2020, in order to reduce crowding and limit contagion in immigrant detention, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) instructed its field offices to assess people in custody for release, specifically, to consider those with factors that may make them more susceptible to the virus. It has already released 160 detainees. That is a start and reflects the government’s understanding of the risk to detainees, but it is not enough.

When the virus is permitted to create an outbreak in a facility, asylum seekers, other detainees, staff, and the families and communities in which the staff live are all impacted. As of March 28, ICE had detained 35,671 people. In addition, this release does not include the many child asylees who are held in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). Huge numbers like this all but guarantee outbreaks.

Protection and Advocacy (P&A) agencies, which make up the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN), monitor immigrant detention facilities and carefully follow conditions issues regarding individuals in detention, and have learned that in the absence of dedicated funding, the virus will spread rapidly in detention facilities.

NDRN calls on the federal government to provide financial support in the fourth COVID-19 relief package for services to assist asylum seekers and other detainees with disabilities in finding housing, locating sponsors and community supports, so they can be released to reduce over-crowding. NDRN calls on state and local officials to ensure that asylum seekers and other detainees with disabilities are not left behind in crowded and unsanitary conditions while others are being released and receive the services they require. Federal and state laws require nondiscrimination in such decision-making, and NDRN calls on officials to comply with the law. No one who can be released should remain in detention simply because they have a disability and can’t get the services they need to get out.

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The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) is the nonprofit membership organization for the federally mandated Protection and Advocacy (P&A) Systems and the Client Assistance Programs (CAP) for individuals with disabilities. Collectively, the P&A/CAP Network is the largest provider of legally based advocacy services to people with disabilities in the United States.