NewsLocal NewsInvestigations


Arizona’s first confirmed COVID-19 case in an ICE detention center

Posted at 6:23 PM, Apr 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-04 00:55:25-04

PHOENIX — A ticking time bomb just waiting to go off, that is what human rights activists say they have been trying to prevent since the COVID-19 spread first started.

Castro-Solis says their efforts now more than ever prove that this pandemic doesn’t discriminate and that incarceration is not a public healthcare solution.

“We have Governor Ducey’s plan to prevent the outbreak, but there is no set plan in these facilities,” said Castro-Solis.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have confirmed a 45-year-old Guatemalan national at the La Palma Correctional Center in Eloy has tested positive to COVID-19.

Castro-Solis says she worries about the way the COVID-19 pandemic has been handled inside immigration detention centers and demands the immediate release of the most vulnerable.

“This is going to contaminate individuals in the same facility, same quarters. We’re talking about cross-contamination all over the board,” stated Castro-Solis.

According to ICE, they are following CDC guidelines and those who have come in contact with the individual have been cohorted and are being monitored for symptoms.

“It’s frustrating.”

Immigration lawyer, Alma Montes de Oca disagrees with ICE’S statement. She says it has been frustrating having no access to information on the number of people who were in contact with the detainee infected.

“It’s really difficult for anyone who has a heart to be able to go to a detention facility look at someone’s eyes who’s already scared and say it’s going to be okay. I saw very few people there with masks and gloves,” said Montes de Oca.

ABC15 Investigators spoke to a current detainee in custody inside the La Palma Detention Center. Via phone call he confirmed a lockdown had taken place, but didn’t know why.

“We were in the tank confined in a room with over 100 people. We don’t have soap to wash our hands, only water. We’re not keeping social distancing, they’re not checking our temperature,” said the detainee who asked to remain anonymous.

ABC15 investigators also received letters from families with a loved one at the La Palma detention center hoping their message could get to the Federal Government.

One letter asked for compassion and for the release of their son, a U.S legal resident detained after a car crash.

Immigration lawyer, Alma Montes de Oca says, a release of detainees with misdemeanors, those in custody for civil offenses and under certain conditions could help flatten the curve.

“ICE has the capacity to do check ins, ankle monitors, and allow for the containment of people to be reduced.”

Other people like Antonio Velazquez who runs a non-profit organization for Guatemalan nationals say, it’s important to stop deportations at least for now.

“We have seen many cases of people getting deported to Guatemala, people already infected with COVID-19,” said Velazquez who stated the most recent case was just last week, a person deported from a detention center in Florence.

As of today, nationally, there are six confirmed cases of ICE detainees with COVID-19, five confirmed cases among ICE employees and personnel working in detention facilities, and 44 confirmed cases among ICE employees not assigned to detention facilities.

But as far as how many were in contact with all of them? That remains unknown.