In this briefing, we examine how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting immigration, and the dangers it is posing for individuals being held in immigration detention facilities across the country. The discussion examines what caused these risks, why they are so severe, and what type of actions the government has taken and should take to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in facilities.
Some key takeaways include:
- Many of the problems in detention facilities that are posing serious risks now existed well before the pandemic began. Now those issues are exacerbating the dangers of a virus spreading in a densely populated space.
- It’s important to remember that immigration detention is part of a civil proceeding, and that it is not meant to be a form of a punishment for criminal behavior—many detained individuals have never committed a crime.
- We lack significant information about how prevalent COVID-19 is in detention facilities. Testing has been sparse, and it’s important that the government engage in more comprehensive testing so it can account for and respond to outbreaks.
- Releasing individuals and reducing the number of incoming detainees is the best way to reduce the number of infections and public health risks. We’ve seen some movement in policy to respond to this priority.
- This pandemic and the virus’s ability to spread rapidly in detention facilities threatens detained individuals and staff alike, and could even become a source of the outbreaks more broadly if appropriate measures are not taken.