Nationwide Protests Call for Release of Immigrant Detainees

Eric Tegethoff | Public News Service
Cases of coronavirus have exploded in immigrant detention centers across the country. Photo Credit: chatiyanon/Adobe Stock

TACOMA, Wash. — Anti-detention activists held online protests across the country Thursday to call for the release of immigrant detainees.

Groups are concerned about the spread of COVID-19 in the confined spaces of detention centers, where social distancing is nearly impossible.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has reported 1,200 coronavirus cases in its facilities since late March.

Maru Mora Villalpando is a community organizer for La Resistencia, which supports people locked up in the Tacoma Northwest Detention Center.

“People that are in prisons or in detention centers are at higher risk than anybody else to become positive of COVID-19,” she points out. “That’s why we wanted to show this national effort and coordinated effort from different places to demand the immediate release of people detained.”

The Detention Watch Network is coordinating the nationwide protests, which took place Thursday and Friday. An ICE representative says the Northwest Detention Center is following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to protect detainees, including use of personal protective equipment and 14-day isolation of new admissions showing symptoms or in high risk groups.

Nearly 2,000 people in facilities across the country have gone on hunger strikes to demand their release since late March, according to the Detention Watch Network. Villalpando says two people who tested positive for the virus have been transferred into the Northwest Detention Center and that’s adding stress for everyone inside.

“‘At what point is it going to hit me?'” she raises. “And ‘I don’t want to die,’ and ‘I don’t want to die in detention.’ The level of worry is off the roof in the detention center.”

An ICE representative says none of the detainees who have tested positive have come from within the facility.

Villalpando says ICE should be doing more to protect people in the facilities, including making guards wear protective masks. But she says people will have to take these concerns to their local representatives.

“We need to continue pressuring our elected officials to get serious on this because ICE is not taking it seriously, and obviously ICE doesn’t care for people’s lives,” she stresses.